Feb/20

21

Delray Beach Notebook

Noah Rubin has created a clothing line for his “Behind The Racquet” interview feature series on Instagram. He has the name of the series on his black shorts and black shirt but he still wears Asics shoes and uses a Head racquet. I sat behind him during his match with Yoshihito Nishioka and noticed he does something different. At every changeover he puts his racquet on the ground about five feet away, in different spots five feet away. When the ballkid picked it up to give it to him, Rubin politely declined and puts it back in the place he wants, five feet away. An odd quirk.

A normal quirk for a tennis player is to go out and practice after a match. Ugo Humbert is a very hard worker. The French lefty now ranked 44 in the world went back to work an hour or so after both of his singles wins here. He beat LL Stefan Kozlov in three sets and Miomir Kecmanovic 64 76 (his first win in four tries vs the Serbian) but those hard fought victories were not enough tennis for the day for Humbert. He hit the practice court with his coach and did a series of different drills. After beating Kozlov, Humbert’s first drill was standing in the middle of the baseline and being fed no pace balls and he fired forehand strike winners and then backhand winners.

This is clearly a player with serious ambitions. Humbert, who beat Monfils at Wimbledon last year from two sets downa and won his first title in Auckland this year (vs Paire) will play Frances Tiafoe in the quarterfinals. Tiafoe won their one meeting at NEXTGEN finals last year in four sets 42 43 34 41.

In other years celebrities have come out to the tournament such as Greg Norman, Michelle Wie, Fred Stolle. Bob McAdoo, and this year I spotted three. Boxing judge Steve Weisfeld, who will officiate the Fury vs Wilder match in Las Vegas this weekend, former 70s and 80s player Van Winitsky (who is interested to publish a book about his tennis life/career), and Pablo Arraya, the former pro from Peru, who I interviewed for my next tennis book, Facing Guillermo Vilas. Pablo said he could not play his hero Vilas because he was too nervous and the first time he played him the announcer misidentified him as Pedro Arraya from Paraguay. Steve Weisfeld is an old friend from Bergen County, we know each other for decades in boxing, and we even played tennis at Van Saun Park in Paramus, NJ, next to the merry-go-round. Steve kindly bought a copy of my latest book “Close Encounters With Donald Trump.”

Pat Cash is here, in a working capacity. He is co-coaching new American sensation Brandon Nakashima with coach Beauregard Treyz, a former college player who told me he connected last summer with Nakashima through another player he worked with. Nakashima had been coached by Larry Stefanki for four years.

Many qualities stand out about the 18 year old, he has rock solid technique and a smart way of playing (no low percentage shots, perfect mature behavior and focus). He also is unintimated by playing seasoned, established ATP veterans like Jiri Vesely and Cam Norrie. While Norrie vented his frustrations and tried to pump himself up through the whole match, it was Nakashima who carried himself like it was just another match on the ATP Tour. Calm, focus, sticking to the plan, self-belief, no signs of any stage fright or immaturity or cracking under pressure. Nothing bothers this kid at all. He shows nothing but a Terminator machinelike concentration on destroying the opponent.

The day after beating Norrie, he practiced with Denis Istomin and it was the same thing. Nakashima, without a shirt, playing veteran Istomin in tiebreakers like a top 30 veteran, on dead even terms. And unleashing winners too. There was no interaction with Istomin, no disrespect or respect, just work. Nakashima shows no emotion on the court, no weakness, no desire to be popular with other players. Just work. Just striving for the goal. Already at 18 he has an aura mystique that some players never have.

There was a moment in the Norrie match, second set, where something happened that might have flustered or shaken Nakashima’s concentration. Nakashima was serving and in the middle of his motion the audio recording started playing, a male voice shilling some product or service, the announcement that plays during changeovers was accidentally turned on (or maybe somebody had a wicked sense of humor and wanted to see Ice Man Nakashima’s reaction). The interruption was loud and it caused Nakashima to miss his serve. Nakashima’s only reaction was to look at the chair umpire to make sure he got a first serve do-over. He did and it was back to business. No nonsense, no shenanigans. Nakashima held and won the game and the match a few minutes later, 75 62.

Nakashima is as impressive as any 18 year old I have ever seen in the ATP. If there is one area which may need improving it’s his physical strength. He has a good built but no muscular definition in his chest or arms or shoulders. A good training regimen of daily pushups and pullups and some upper body weight work will make him even more intimidating and stronger. Pat Cash said he is going to try to work on that with Nakashima.

Cash told me how he connected with Nakashima. A few weeks ago a mutual friend contact him about Nakashima and he did some research and liked what he learned about the kid and decided to get together. This is their first week.

After the practice with Istomin yesterday, Nakashima, Treyz and Cash went over to the far side practice courts, where Nick Monroe was fine tuning, for more work. Cash wanted to do a volley drill with Nakashima. Cash put on his signature headband and went to one baseline left corner with Trezy on the right side corner. Nakashima was across the court just inside the baseline. Cash wanted him to run forward and hit volleys off each of their alternating feeds. It was a drill to sharpen his volley.

They did this for about ten minutes. After one volley, Cash instructed, “Don’t drop the wrist, hit through the volley.” On the next ball Nakashima did exactly that and hit a perfect volley. Then after they sat down and Cash talked with Nakashima on the bench and Nakashima looked him in the eye absorbing every worl of wisdom from the former Wimbledon champion of 1987, 76 62 75 over Ivan Lendl.

They talked about what Nakashima had to do next – autograph session at 2, stretch, eat. Nakashima had his first priority though, “I have to get some food in me.”

Then Pat Cash was kind enough to tell me about his memories of Facing Guillermo Vilas which were fantastic. They played at 1986 Wimbledon first round, won by Cash 64 62 63 and then years later in a special grass exo in Argentina, which was the last time Vilas played on national TV. It was a big event in Argentina and gave Cash a perspective of just how popular Vilas was in his homeland.

One of the special thrills about going to a pro tournament like this is the people you meet. Former players with stories galore. Like a guy named Marc Georgian, who coached senior gold ball legend Val Wilder. Another guy was playing on a court in Sweden at 10:30 at night when Stefan Edberg and Tony Pickard suddenly entered the court to practice.

I also bumped into two friends and former opponents from NJ, who I had no idea they would be in Delray Beach, Duncan Lamonte and Marcelo Bustamonte.

It was another dream week of pro tennis. Oh, and I forgot to mention I got a text this week from Justin Gimelstob kindly expressing appreciation for the supportive article I wrote last week.

The only thing that went wrong all week was I did not get to hit a single ball in four days and my practice session with former pro Lisa Bonder Kerkorian in West Palm Beach fell through. Maybe next time.

· · · ·

114 comments

  • Jeff · February 24, 2020 at 12:49 am

    Critical week for US tennis. Isner is the top-ranked American at No. 20. He has semifinal points to defend in Mexico. He is in the same quarter as Tommy Paul and Sascha Zverev. Should he fail to defend these, it will be the first time no U.S. male has been in the top 20 for quite some time.

    History could be made.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 12:56 am

    Andrew – no, won’t see Bianca at IW. Or the summer. Or Olympics (if they take place). Big mismanagement. Tennis Canada are going to pay for this.

    (Naturally I hope I’m wrong but…)

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 1:42 am

    Catherine, can’t see her risk knees. Botch job on the managers, the endorsements etc and joke’s on the WTA. And poor Andreescu…is her game really going to be up to par? In theory it could be, it could be that she is flying in people to hit with her and get her back to playing shape, that she is training like a fiend. If she says she’s getting there but not 100 percent, what’s that mean? That she’s 99 percent? Or more like 68 percent? Does it mean she just does the indoor bike?

    Sadly this length of time off tour invites tons of questions. I personally cannot see her take the court any sooner than grass season. But maybe she can play some low key events, undercover of course.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 1:46 am

    Andrew – about Ivanovic – she wasn’t an 80s player, surely ? Not unless I’ve forgotten more than I remember – quite possible. But what I do remember about Ivanovic is her fairly public love life with a series of well known men – and that was not considered to have helped her game, which never seemed to me to be anything much and didn’t last long. Probably her social life got in the way. Kerber has always claimed her as a close friend and inspiration but I’ve no idea why. Angie ended up with the better career anyway.

    Sabatini – Gabriela got fed up with being looked at and judged and gossiped about and just said Adios. Never saw a bad photo of her though. So she got published a lot.

    Best quote: Clive James – ‘ Bring me the tears of Gabriela Sabatini’.

  • Jeff · February 24, 2020 at 3:06 am

    Sabatini also known for dating Trump for a couple of months.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 3:36 am

    Jeff – I’m not sure about that. There was always gossip that Gabriela was ‘dating’ or ‘not dating’ someone or other but a lot of the time she wasn’t doing anything much except staying with her family in BA. Too dull.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 3:50 am

    In Doha Penko wins a marathon late at night beating Teichmann in 3. Watched by a scattering of fans and tournament staff plus a white cat making its dash for freedom across the court during a changegover.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 6:30 am

    With the white cat at Penko’s match, there was the story of how, as a 6-year-old playing in a tournament, she stopped playing on order to chase a cat. At least she doesn’t do that now. 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 7:13 am

    Wonder if it’s a silent ban.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 8:37 am

    A silent ban for the cat ?

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Ivanovic…best worst one slam wonder. I definitely consider her like the Aha! of the women’s tour: one hit song, one so so song, many duds for so much game. Other players with her game would have peeled off a few more majors. We can see that with Muguruza, who kills with her attitude as much as her game and looks. I like the Muguruza approach, it’s like the Serena Williams mid 2000s way of life: win big, play well then take a break, then do that cycle again and always be a threat to win even if others believe you are slacking.

    I think Muguruza turns the sport’s conventions upside down. It’s as if she reminds the world of tennis hey, it’s about who hits one more ball in on the day, whether against number three hundred or number three in the world, and rankings don’t win matches players do.

    Every slam could literally come down to: “if Muguruza cares about this tournament”. It used to be “if Serena Williams cares about this tournament” but Serena’s days feature a lot of hot and cold play, she can’t get her racquet to do everything as consistently as she could before and her fitness goes wildly up and down as her age heads further north. It just is: she’ll do great and look the best and then look like an inconsistent WTA player and a shell of herself. At least she is fighting nearly every ball – that should keep her doing well on surfaces that suit her game. Just when the chips are down it’s harder for her, her Plan B is gone.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 9:19 am

    Catherine, I’m uncharitable with Ivanovic. I had to look at her record again on the sport’s websites like ESPN. Ivanovic was formidable for a good few years and was a threat to win the big ones for that stretch. Once that was done she transformed into post-US Open victory Pennetta: from then on out, it was a retirement in form if not substance. She got herself together briefly for good runs and then it was over.

    Fair to say she was a great teenager that willed herself to a slam win after a few excellent runs at slams and once she got there at a young age for tennis that was it. Her modeling shoots went up in number and her off court interests smothered her on court training. Her serve became a mystery to her and her press conferences odd therapy sessions where she seemed to ask journalists for diagnoses. I’d guess her modeling income compared favorably to her tennis earnings and her ranking was good enough to hold onto her sponsors and for her contracts to stay intact.

    So…young champ to flameout. I think some players are like that…reach that huge goal and then at the top of the mountain it’s over. Muguruza seems to want more and get that sensation again, Djokovic lives for it. Ivanovic was like yeah…I did that…I don’t even know how to play tennis anymore! I think I am a pro tennis player? This is all so confusing to me…

    I think that’s the interesting thing. Her career was over as of the second she won her French Open. Not uncommon – a lot of Spanish men were one and done (see JC Ferrero, another young champ turned very good player capable of fine tennis). Novotna was one and done but only after accomplishing her lifelong mission, not different from Pennetta. I think it’s what else can you do at age 22? For Ivanovic it was I’M OUTTA HERE!!!

    Personally I do not see her as a Hall of fame inductee unless the HOF runs out of candidates. That’s always possible so she’d get in because they are at wits end. Otherwise it’s not warranted.

  • Harold · February 24, 2020 at 9:49 am

    Jon, you’re a father, a coach, a mentor, and you call an 18 year old kid , “ repulsive, hideous” that damn freaking cold. Do you turn down kids to coach, because of their looks. Probably one of the most boorish, arrogant ugly posts on TP. Post your pic, let’s review you, and the kids you coach, so we can take shots at them..

    Or were you just kissing Dans ass?

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 10:10 am

    Andrew – from what I recall of Ivanovic it’s mostly her social/romantic life – that definitely got in the way. You can’t really do both. She just did enough to keep her in the rankings and in the public eye and wouldn’t/couldn’t commit to more. When she retired I remember I referred to her as a ‘midlist’ player and then felt a bit mean but that’s really what she was. Anyway, she’s settled down now with a family and I doubt she has regrets about her career. Re Kerber – I have the feeling she’d have liked some of Ivanovic’s career but Angie’s split between two – glamour girl or champion ? Depends which IG you’re looking at. Can’t make up her mind. At times, neither role convinces.

    You’re on point with Mugs. You can see the fans taking sides. She has the obsessive followers and then the ones who don’t rate her at all, can’t stand her separateness and ‘I’ll follow my own rules’ on court. During her match v DKat Garbine didn’t smile once, not even at the end, not to Daria or to the crowd. Just didn’t feel like it. But I don’t sense she’s divided – she slips into glamour mode easily – she’s the same person. I’d like to see her complete the 4 slams but I wouldn’t bet on her for any old tournament.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 10:12 am

    Overall, Ana had a decent career. She had the Slam and the No. 1 ranking and 15 titles in total. She was out with an injury for a few months before she announced her retirement.

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Hartt – yes, Ana did have a decent career although early on it seemed to promise more. She had a huge fan following too.

    I fear Julia is on the way out – lost to Sakkari in SS, 4 aces and 5 dfs. The German trio will be gone this year.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 10:51 am

    Sorry to hear about Julia.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Catherine, point taken. I short-sold Ivanovic (not necessary) – again I had to read through her results a little more closely. She indeed made a fierce come-back to better form – her 2014 to 2015 campaign alone was a nice example of making the extra effort to be serious about the sport again. We never again saw her 2008-2010 capabilities, reaching slam finals and seeming to have that extra “edge”, or killer instinct, that her competitors, through no fault of their own, lacked.

    Aka Ivanovic was different. Ivanovic WANTED the big wins and the glory. Ivanovic HAD the big shots. She had a big serve. She could will herself to the top.

    I don’t want to put her down any more than I already have. I’ve taken a dim view of her choices – she seemed to have more ability than, of course, her very VERY promising early salvo of her late teenage years and early twenties. She won the French Open at age 20!

    That’s a young champion no matter how we look at it. She was so ferocious! I thought nothing would ever get to her, not now and not ever. It’s a good idea to keep in mind also that she retired IN HER TWENTIES! I get that even Graf didn’t stick around long in her thirties, but this is kind of amazing.

    I think if someone leaves like that, they truly do see their future elsewhere. I’m sorry her early promise didn’t inspire her to do more. And maybe that’s what separates an Ivanovic from a Halep, or (I think) the better comparison of Muguruza. Muguruza COULD do what Ivanovic did. She decided otherwise.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 11:29 am

    I like Nakashima. He reminds of Sampras (Gauff does too with some of her overheads – Gauff’s a great athlete!). If we’re seeing him do well and on billboards, that’s a win for sport. And it could inspire other kids who think, you know what, you can LOOK like anyone to be a champ. As it should be 🙂

  • catherine · February 24, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    WTA highlights of Georges/Sakkari showed 90% of Julia’s winning points although she lost 4 & 2 – like it was a goodbye highlight reel. She really looked unhappy.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 12:27 pm

    Alcaraz: #314, age 16, WC to Miami main draw. Me: WHAT?

    As Harold said: IMG. The clout those guys have. It’s the place to be.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 1:07 pm

    I don’t think they are doing the youngster any favours by giving a WC to the Miami MD. He’s be better off playing the qualies and gaining more experience.

  • jg · February 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    by the way, Cressy won the challenger in Canada yesterday. Its conceivable Opelka could be the top US player within a few months, with his strokes he should also do ok on clay.

  • Harold · February 24, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Tsitsipas’s brother is getting wildcards all over Europe. Djoker brother has reaped the benefits of WC, think Alcaraz’s future is brighter than theirs.

    They’re called “ Wild Cards” for a reason😀

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 2:24 pm

    Little Tsitsipas is WC main draws at huge events?

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 2:26 pm

    Opelka, serious win in Delray, two ATP titles now

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 2:32 pm

    Like Harold said it’s IMG, they control the event and can WC any player within reason e.g. kid just beat a top fifty player all of a six days ago and played a top 120 player shot for shot for the better part of three sets. That’s enough to Gauff him.

    In my opinion a player should be like no – better to develop my game and take the long approach so that I win this thing in a few if I get better. But is young Alcaraz going to turn that down? We already know the answer.

    So…welcome to Miami kid.

    And hard working top 80 to 100+ players: enjoy the hunger games of the qualies field for Miami. At least they can hit the beach if their opponent is too good that day. Actually for some players that will tank it’s truly a beach trip. It was for Boris Becker!!!

    For WTA players: quality instagrammable moments.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 2:34 pm

    Scoop question: what’s over under on a Gauff/Alcaraz who wins a slam first? Scoop would be the first to post it. No one else knows who he is in the greater tennis world.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 2:38 pm

    Or Gauff/Alcaraz mixed dubs…then in the future they can talk about how they once played dubs in Miami but now look at the newly minted champions of X slam.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    #Zvonarevarising
    #MuchovaDreamingof2019
    #SvitolinaAlsoWishingfor20192018

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 3:47 pm

    Ivanovic was world no. 1 and French Open winner. That’s Hall of Fame credentials right there. Plus she was one of the nicest most liked players. Pull her into Newport asap. She’s got my vote.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    Five things I remember about Ana Ivanovic. No. 1. Roland Garros. Her double fist pumps and big smiles after big points. Her serve shenanigans. And that time in Australia when she tried the squeaky feet trick on return of serve while the opponent was in her service motion. 🙂 Classic trickery by Ana.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    Nakashima won me over, I see big things coming for him. Nice kid, works very hard, super polite, fierce warrior cloaked by a Sampras exterior of nonchalance.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    Sixteen year old kid rocking the pro tennis boat deserves a WC crack at the big time. Everybody loves to see a kid locking horns with the big boys. I saw Khachanov play Traver with a Miami Open wildcard at 16 or 17. Had no weapons back then but he had game. Alcarez has earned his free pass into the Miami Open I will be there courtside.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 3:54 pm

    Cressy serve and volleying his way to pro titles now. Keep an eye on this renegade with the old school style. Works hard, has the fire, has the weapons. Has the pro title now. Dangerous player.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    Alcaraz earned it? Maybe IMG earned it because they own the tournament. If you are an unremarkable 1-1 on the pro your you technically should not be in one of the sport’s better tournaments. If your agent is part of the tournament and there’s a lot of money riding on your entrance then the whole scheme is obvious.

    Which it is.

    Nadal never got these kinds of wildcards. This is wrong.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Are you sure Nadal didn’t get any ATP main tour widlcards Andrew? He shot up quickly, I would think he got some help. He was already solid top 100 by 17 and playing key Davis Cup matches. Alcarez won some matches last week. People are curious to see this young gun. Leo Borg is 15 16 and just got wcs into the last two Challengers in Europe. Lost badly last week, got another for this week.

  • Andrew Miller · February 24, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    Checked the records: Nadal – at Masters level, zero WC. ZERO. He went through qualies for all masters in 2003, when he began to dig in.

    So no, he didn’t receive the preferential wildcard treatment for big events, which is incredibly obnoxious. His first ever ATP event was a WC into his hometown Mallorca tournament – off the map. This was after he had proven himself in 2001, when he turned pro, by battling a top 150 player his first few events.

    A wildcard into an obscure ATP event isn’t the same as a wildcard into a major event. You’re given the keys to the Ferrari, but you don’t know how to drive and it isn’t your car.

    You could say well, this was Nadal. Check Hewitt – I don’t think you’ll find many WCs on his career either – he received wildcards as his career wound down. They don’t believe in them.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 24, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    Jose Higueras hated wildcards. He said being offered a wildcard means you aren’t good enough to get in on your own merit. You are not working hard enough.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    I think a WC to a Masters for a kid ranked outside the top 300 is a bit much. By all means give a WC for the qualies, where he would have a chance, and where he could get some useful match play.

  • Hartt · February 24, 2020 at 8:56 pm

    José Morgado
    @josemorgado

    Great interview with Alcaraz

    “I don’t like being compared to Nadal and nobody should do it. He is my idol, it’s great to look up to him but there is a world between us”.

    “My social media fans are rising fast but I’m not going crazy about that!”

  • Dan Markowitz · February 24, 2020 at 9:30 pm

    Now first, Harold, I don’t need anyone kissing my ass. I do it myself every night before I go to sleep. Secondly, I think I can vouch for Jon, he’s a knowledgeable tennis fan and tennis father and seems like a decent man. He got carried away commentating on Nakashima;s looks. Brandon’s not movie star handsome, but there are so many Asian boys in the juniors, including my son, who would be tremendously buoyed and inspired by Nakashima becoming a big-time player so that would take precedence over whether he has Borgian looks.

  • Harold · February 25, 2020 at 10:18 am

    Why isn’t anyone bitching about Mischa Z getting a WC into Acapulco ? I rather give a WC to an up and comer than a life long journeyman( biggest dis on TP). What’s their reasoning? Hoping for the big Z vs Z matchup?

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 25, 2020 at 10:26 am

    Probably a favor to younger Zverev who is a marquee attraction now and can make requests. The problem with the Z vs Z matchup is the Zverev brothers hate to play each other. Anyone notice Petros Tsitispas getting a lot of WCs this year?

  • Hartt · February 25, 2020 at 10:57 am

    Mischa getting the WC probably has more to do with the Zverev brothers playing doubles. I think they won the title last year.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 11:26 am

    Doha: Yastremska d. Kenin in straights (Yes, Bajin is relieved). Kenin slowly growing to appreciate the large growing X on her back. Nice Sabalenka win on Kontaveit.

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 11:40 am

    M. Zverev shouldn’t get a wildcard either. Maybe if you are a defending or past champion coming back – fine (see Clijsters)

  • Andrew Miller · February 25, 2020 at 11:45 am

    Kenin’s lost 3/4 matches since Australia: losses to Ostapenko, Rybakina, Yastremska. Good players, but…

  • Harold · February 25, 2020 at 12:00 pm

    Former champs should always be offered a wild card, ,why Sock can play Delray forever.

    Golf is smart, you win a tournament it gets you an exemption for a few years, puts you in the Masters, year end tournament for past winners

    Maybe Tennis should have a year-ender for everyone that won a tournament that calendar year( no challengers)..

  • catherine · February 25, 2020 at 12:35 pm

    This seems to be the tournament thread. Penko won her match – I’m wondering who her coach is now ?

    Does Sabalenka always have to play 3 sets ?

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