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10sBalls Shares Top Takeaways From London 2017 ATP Nitto Tennis Championships

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov kisses his trophy after defeating Belgium’s David Goffin in their singles final match at the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London, Britain, 19 November 2017. EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL



By Richard Pagliaro


Smart phones lit the Sunday sky like holiday lights.


Seven hours before Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin squared off in the year end Nitto ATP World Tour Finals, tourists flooded to Buckingham Palace to see the changing guard.


Pageantry and procession are spectator sports in London.


In the city of walls and bridges, Dimitrov leaped the line of succession to the biggest title of his career.


Here are our top takeaways from an eventful week the year-end at O2 Arena.


In a week of firsts, Dimitrov showed staying power.


The first Bulgarian qualifier in the 48-year-history of the tournament became the first man to win his ATP Finals debut since Alex Corretja beat Pete Sampras and Carlos Moya in succession to take the 1998 title. Dimitrov collected a champion’s check of $2.549 million and 1,500 rankings points for completing an undefeated title run that propelled him to world No. 3.


Dimitrov attacked with confidence, defended with vigor and was resourceful at crunch time winning his fourth title of the season. The question is: Can Dimitrov beat the best in major matches?


Dimitrov dueled Rafael Nadal for five pulsating sets before bowing in the Australian Open semifinals in January—one of the best matches of the year—but his record against the Big 4 is a major scar. Dimitrov is a combined 5-30 vs. the Big 4 (1-10 vs. Nadal, 0-6 vs. Roger Federer, 1-6 vs. Novak Djokovic and 3-8 vs. Andy Murray).


Dimitrov is a strong front runner, not a ruthless closer. He’s 14-12 in deciding sets this season, including squandering match points in Masters losses in Indian Wells (to Jack Sock), Madrid (to Dominic Thiem) and Paris (to John Isner). Dimitrov can also spit up double faults in pairs under pressure. His Oz Open run was the only time in his past 13 majors Dimitrov surpassed the fourth round.


“I need to be even more consistent on those kind of events, and in the same time raise up my level on occasions like this,” Dimitrov said.


Though he didn’t beat a Grand Slam singles champ winning his biggest title, London can be a launching pad infusing Dimitrov with the confidence to claim a major.


All-court skill is his strength and has been a burden as Dimitrov struggled to define his game style. Was he an aggressive baseliner or a true all-court player?


In this title run, Dimitrov blended offense and defense in a winning style.


Magic Minimalist

David Goffin is the master of downsizing.


In an era where top players often travel with entourages as big as basketball teams, Goffin traveled to the O2 daily with only his coach at his side, carrying his own bag and stopping to sign autographs for fans waiting at the North Greenwich Pier.


Goffin made his mark becoming just the sixth man in history to beat world No. 1 Nadal and No. 2 Federer in the same tournament.


Watch Goffin closely and his precision is astounding. Straddling the baseline, the 5’11”, 150-pound Belgian took the ball on the rise robbing opponents of time and downsizing the court for his brand of angled brilliance. Combine Nikolay Davydenko’s skill taking the ball early with David Nalbandian’s two-handed backhand control and Guillermo Coria’s feel and you get an idea of what Goffin can do with the ball.


“I just think the better returner won over the better server today,” Federer said after Goffin beat the Swiss for the first time in seven meetings. “He’s crushed me too many times in practice not to do it also once in a match situation.”


There’s no wasted movement with Goffin, his swings are smooth, balance balletic and while he paces carefully around the court like a man stepping on sea shells, once the ball is in play Goffin has one of the fastest first-steps in tennis. He redirects off his two-hander as effectively as Nishikori and Djokovic, but Goffin’s sharper serve and his willingness to use his soft hands around net have made him a complete player.


Future Rivalry

Jack Sock topped Alexander Zverev, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, to reach the semifinals. It was Sock’s second win in three meetings with Zverev in a rivalry of contrasting styles between alpha male personalities. Zverev is better balanced off both wings—his two-handed backhand is already one of the biggest in the game—while Sock is quicker around the court and his nuclear forehand is the most explosive weapon in this match-up. At one point, Sock nuked a forehand with such force it splattered against the back wall provoking an audible gasp from players—and fortunately leaving no hole in the wall.


There’s a tension in this rivalry. Zverev declared “I choked” after the loss, while Sock, showed some subtle gamesmanship during the match pacing around the baseline or going to the towel when Zverev was on the line ready to serve.


Interest and motivation tends to ebb and flow in Sock. He played tremendous tennis in spurts, but failed to put a complete match together. Sock can’t afford to gift games against elite players as he did in both his win over Zverev and semifinal loss to Dimitrov. Still, Sock showed point-ending volatility with his forehand and subtlety using the drop shot, his net skills and slice to drag opponents forward. When Zverev fills out a bit and refines his transition game he will contend for Grand Slam titles. This will be a fun rivalry to watch develop.


Editors Note: We dwell on the quality and quantity of food only because most tennis events globally feed the media very poorly. Our writers and photographers are on the tourney site working from first ball to last and still at their desks writing on minimal food allowances and concession stand food. (Yes, BNP I.W. Was guilty of treating the media food as snacks versus wholesome hot meals) (LJ)


Tennis Feast

Tennis is the main course at the O2—the food makes every day feel like Thanksgiving. The tournament’s media dining—set in what resembles a club space with high projection screens sprouting from the ceiling like chandeliers— features some of the best food on the tour.


Various main courses, plenty of protein, always a vegan option on the menu, as well as a fully-loaded salad bar, hot soups and a full desert menu make meal time a treat. Unlike the US Open, there is no cap on meal money, so you can eat as often as you like. And that’s without even mentioning the bar where drinks—beer, wine, soda—are free (there is a charge for mixed drinks). Drinking and writing don’t work for me though I did overindulge top shelf cravings in the Haagen- Dazs freezer almost daily—nothing like watching elite tennis on a sugar high.


The Mo Show

Mohamed Lahyani is a maestro chair umpire who received a rock star reception from fans he high-fived when walking out before final.


Lahyani’s doesn’t only manage the match—he controls the entire environment. From putting players and the ceremonial tosser together for the pre-match photo to pausing play to admonish a chatty man in the luxury box, “please sir, keep your voices down!”, to denying Sock a challenge because he took too long walking toward the mark, inspecting the mark, pondering the mark, to the fast and most declarative over-rule voice in the sport, it’s the Mo Show from the moment he walks out on court.


Some of Lahyani’s rulings—admonishing the chatty fans and schooling one dude he thought it was a great idea to turn on his phone’s flash light from the front row—prompted applause from fans and reinforce the fact he is trying to ensure fair play for all and the best possible conditions for tennis.


When death has me down match point, I don’t want last rites. I want a quick over-rule from Mohamed Lahyani.


Final Editors Note:

Every event that 10sBalls has ever attended in the United Kingdom has always been fantastic. It’s hard to explain but decisions seem to be made with common sense and planning and consideration of how would we feel if it was us ? We truly appreciate all the hospitality. It does not go un noticed.

• We would like our names embroidered on the towels like the “ITWA “writers get… We work just as hard.

Maybe someday… Just saying. It’s Prob an oversight. (LJ)

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