Antipodean rivalry adds extra spice to Sunday’s T20 Cricket World Cup final

Antipodean rivalry adds extra spice to Sunday’s T20 Cricket World Cup final
Antipodean rivalry adds extra spice to Sunday’s T20 Cricket World Cup final

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DUBAI: The top eight men’s tennis players of the season have descended upon Turin, which will host the ATP Finals starting this year through to at least 2025.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic headlines the field with the action starting this Sunday and concluding on Nov. 21.

After suffering heartbreak against Daniil Medvedev in New York, where he fell just one match-win short of completing the calendar year Grand Slam, Djokovic will be looking to finish his 2021 campaign on a positive note as he seeks a record-tying sixth ATP Finals crown.

Djokovic avenged that loss to Medvedev by defeating the Russian in the Paris Masters final last week, and the duo are considered the main contenders for the title at the season-ending championships.

Medvedev is the No.2 seed and defending champion in Turin. He is joined in the Red Group by 2018 winner Alexander Zverev, home favorite Matteo Berrettini, and first-time qualifier Hubert Hurkacz.

Djokovic shares the Green Group with 2019 champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, second-time qualifier Andrey Rublev, and Norwegian debutant Casper Ruud.

Historically, the ATP Finals have been a happy hunting ground for the Serb but the last of his five titles in the competition came in 2015. 

Asked why he has found it harder to reign supreme at the tournament in recent years, Djokovic said: “It could be just the amount of energy that you spend during the season that you maybe don’t have enough left in the tank for that final push. But also I lost some tight close matches against Dominic Thiem a couple of years, last year 7-6 in the third set in the semi-finals. 

“It’s just playing at the highest level against the top eight players in the world. Every single match is really high intensity, high demand from you that you have to be at your best. It could be the case of maybe a semi-full tank, just not being able to perform at your best every single match and that’s what it takes here. It requires a lot of energy from every point of view in order to triumph in this tournament.

“(Grigor) Dimitrov, Tsitsipas, Zverev were some of the winners in the last five, six, seven years, they all had their maiden big title won at the ATP Finals and for most of them they were qualified maybe for the first or second or third time, coming in, they’re fresh, they’re motivated, they don’t have much to lose compared to maybe some of us that have been there for a while, it’s a different feeling. So that could be also one of the reasons.”

Casper’s daunting opener

Ruud is the first Norwegian to ever qualify for the ATP Finals and the 22-year-old faces a tough initiation to the competition with Djokovic standing his first opponent on Monday afternoon.

Ruud fell to Djokovic in their only previous meeting, last year on clay in the Rome Masters, and joked that he might ask Medvedev for advice on how to overcome the 20-time major champion.

“It feels exciting in a way. He’s probably the toughest player to play in the world, he has the routine like no one else here, he’s won this event several times and this year he has been exceptional from the first week until last week in Paris,” said Ruud of Djokovic.  

“He almost won four Grand Slams this year, there was only one guy who could stop him, and maybe I’ll have to ask him what he did. I did watch the match, the final in the US Open, so I know how well Daniil played. I’ll try to figure something out to come up with a game plan but I think as we know Novak is pretty much a complete player, he has no weaknesses.

“I’ll have to just trust my game and enjoy because I’m playing without pressure, he’s the No.1 seeded, I’m the No.8 seeded. I’ll just try to enjoy the moment, but of course also try to play every point like I want to win it.”

Medvedev the Pretzel?

In a recent conversation organized by their common sponsor Tecnifibre, WTA star Iga Swiatek told Medvedev his playing style made him look like a “pretzel” on court. It is actually a description often used by tennis fans on Twitter to describe the Russian’s unorthodox form and technique, where his long limbs sometimes look tangled like a pretzel.

Medvedev has clearly never come across the pretzel reference on social media and was stunned by Swiatek’s comments, but took it in his stride and laughed it off.

On Friday, the US Open champion was asked which of his many nicknames he preferred: Pretzel, octopus, spider, or none of the above?

“Pretzel, that was the first time I heard it, so I don’t know if it should stay as a nickname, I still don’t understand why. ‘Octopus’ is probably the most common one, which a lot of people call me,” said the 25-year-old player.

“But me, if you ask me my favorite one is the ‘Bear’, because that’s what my surname means in Russian and that’s also the easiest for me, because I’ve been called ‘Bear’ in all my school years until I was 20 years old.” Good to know!

Home pride for Matteo

Berrettini will have home court advantage this upcoming week as the Italian gets ready to make his second ATP Finals appearance.

He’s not shying away from the responsibility though and cannot wait to step in front of his supporters on Sunday night.

“I feel the pressure, but it’s a good pressure. It’s so nice to be here, I know the crowd is going to be on my side, I really cannot wait to step on the court,” said the Rome native. “Obviously on the other side of the net there are going to be the best players in the world, so it’s not going to be easy, but I’m one of them, so that helps. I think the atmosphere is going to be special.”

Tsitsipas’ approach to minimalism

You never really know where a conversation with Tsitsipas can take you. On Friday he spoke to reporters about one of his recent topics of interest: Minimalism.

The 23-year-old Greek has watched Matt D’Avella’s documentary about minimalism and has read up on the subject, saying decluttering has helped him deal with anxiety.

“I’ve been very interested in minimalism in the last couple of years and I’ve been reading interesting books that talk about minimalism and how excess is not necessary to make you feel happy and how less can be more sometimes,” explained Tsitsipas.

“I’ve read a lot of things regarding that and that has kind of prompted me to say these kind of things. I think minimalism is a great concept and it works great for me. There are many types of minimalism; it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of every single thing that you own. But for me, decluttering and starting fresh with the types of things that I need in my life has helped me a lot with my struggle with a little bit of anxiety and some other things too.”

Rublev heaps praise on Ruud

Fifth-seeded Rublev did not hold back when he was asked about his Green Group rival Ruud, who has a 0-4 record against the Russian. Rublev gushed about the young Norwegian, and sounded like he was mildly jealous of his … manners?

“Casper he has really great education, I’m not talking about school or something like that, I’m talking about life,” said Rublev. “He’s really kind, really honest and a super nice guy. You can see that he has really great and correct education. If you compare to me, I’m a bit more relaxed completely but Casper is a super nice guy. I really like him as a person. He speaks correct, he says the right words, and me you can see that I’m talking some stupid things every single word, doing mistakes every time.”

Classy competitors

The race for the final qualification spot in Turin came down to the wire and it was Hurkacz who snatched the eighth ticket ahead of 20-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner.

The competition was fierce, but it turns out the rivalry was left behind on the court with the players involved being ever so gracious in the aftermath.

“He congratulated me, his team as well,” Hurkacz said of Sinner. “He’s an amazing guy, an amazing person and for sure he’ll make the finals many times in the future. He’s an amazing player. He’s very young and has had so much success and he’ll have a lot more.”

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