Connect with us

ATP Tour


Saqib Ali




Matt Zemek

Zverev, Vilas, and Xavier. Two names are tennis names. What the heck is the third name doing in the title of a tennis piece?

You will find out soon enough.

Guillermo Vilas won four majors, two of them at the Australian Open before that tournament fielded 128 players and played seven rounds. Judged purely by the majors, he did not attain a larger-than-life place in tennis history. Yet, Vilas found his way to the Tennis Hall of Fame and legitimate immortality by becoming a remarkable endurance man.

In 1977 — his great season, a historically majestic and significant campaign — Vilas won 145 (!) matches and 16 titles. Such prolific production had to involve many consecutive weeks of winning tennis. Indeed, in that 1977 season, Vilas TWICE won tournaments in four consecutive weeks, one of those runs extending to five.

Here are the start dates of the tournaments Vilas won in his two amazing runs in 1977:

Kitzbuhel: July 10

Washington, D.C.: July 17

Louisville, Kentucky: July 24

South Orange, New Jersey: July 31

Columbus, Ohio: August 7

Bogota: November 7

Santiago, Chile: November 14

Buenos Aires: November 21

Johannesburg, South Africa: November 28

Vilas and Jimmy Connors (who won in three consecutive weeks in 1976, among other years — in Washington, D.C., North Conway, New Hampshire, and Indianapolis) racked up so many match wins and tour titles because there were so many events to play in a much less regulated and constrained tour. Imagine winning four titles at the main tour level in one month, as Vilas did TWICE in 1977. Remember: Not even Rafael Nadal has won all of Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid and Rome in the same sequence… and that’s a four-tournament, five-week stretch with a week off in the middle of the five tournaments.

Nadal is the undisputed greatest clay-court player of all time, but at a time (the 1970s) when tennis wasn’t nearly as physical as it is today — for reasons connected to both surfaces and string/racquet technology — the big dogs could eat and eat, week after week. It is not the same tour anymore because so much has changed in how the sport is played. Rest and recovery are so much more paramount than they used to be. It’s not that rest was an irrelevant consideration then; it is merely more paramount now.

This is why Alexander Zverev — even if he gets crushed, 6-2, 6-1, by Rafael Nadal, in Sunday’s Rome final — has already done something very special. It is very rare in modern tennis for anyone to win back-to-back titles and then make a final in three consecutive weeks. Last year, Zverev won back-to-back titles in consecutive weeks in Washington, D.C., and Montreal, but when he got to Cincinnati in week three of his journey in North America, he was toasted. Frances Tiafoe took care of him in his first match in Ohio.

This time, Zverev got to that same point in Rome as he did in Cincinnati and didn’t stop winning. He has thrived in long tiebreakers and close sets, the latest demonstration being his 7-6 (13), 7-5 win over Marin Cilic in Saturday’s late semifinal. Making the finals on three straight Sundays is just not done very often on tour these days, not even among players who play at the 250 and 500 levels and try to pick off clay titles in the weeks after Wimbledon. It’s a tremendous achievement, recalling the Vilas-Connors era of copious match and trophy accumulations… but in the 21st century, one can see the other side of this run. One can see it coming a mile away.

This is where Xavier, a non-tennis entity, enters this discussion.

For those who don’t follow the sport closely, American college basketball is unique in that it values becoming one of the last four teams remaining in the national championship tournament, otherwise known as the NCAA Tournament, held every March and early April. Being one of the last four remaining in any tournament of any kind is very good, but the point of emphasis (and distinction) in American collegiate basketball is that it is celebrated and trumpeted to a considerable degree. “The Final Four” is not merely a numerical reality. It is a formal event separate from the previous rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Whereas the first four rounds (plus play-in games) of the NCAA Tournament are generally held in conventional gymnasiums across the United States with seating capacities of 15 to 20 thousand people, the Final Four is held in an American football stadium holding roughly 70,000 people. It is a set-apart event, a basketball carnival in which the four teams involved are all rock stars and the center of attention in the United States for a week. Being in the Final Four confers stature, success and prestige upon the schools which get there.

With that bit of background having been explained, here is the Xavier angle, which will soon become apparent in its relevance to Zverev:

Xavier University, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, has played in 28 NCAA Tournaments without making a single Final Four. That is second on the all-time list. The leader (Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah) has played in 29 NCAA Tournaments without a Final Four. Xavier could tie the record next year, a record no school ever wants to be a part of.

Last year, Xavier became a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Finally, Xavier was expected to go to the Final Four and break its decades-long drought. Xavier put together one great week of basketball after another and seemed primed to finally get over the hump. Yet, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, the team — called the Musketeers — fell apart. It lost a late lead and suffered a crushing loss to ninth-seeded Florida State.

That Xavier team had been 10-1 in games decided by six points or fewer heading into the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

Final score: Florida State 75, Xavier 70.

10-2… and no Final Four.

Do you see the Xavier-Zverev parallel now?

Zverev has defied the odds — and deserves to be richly congratulated for doing so. Yet, he is one tired puppy. If he gets a tough first-week draw in Paris, against a player (or players, plural) without a lot of tread on the tires in recent weeks, one can easily imagine an early loss. Forget for a moment the possibility of playing Novak Djokovic in the round of 16. Zverev might not even get that far.

It would be a lot like Xavier storming through its regular season, winning a ton of close games, and then losing in the tournament which mattered the most.

Zverev and outside observers both have to prepare for this possibility.

Zverev has to prepare in the sense that if he does lose early in Paris, he can’t get down on himself. He has to know — and savor — how much he has transcended expectations and normal standards these past three weeks. He needs to enjoy what he has accomplished. At age 21, this run through the Masters 1000 events has profoundly changed the trajectory of his season and altered his status on tour. One bad Roland Garros — as much as you and I have harped on the importance of doing well in Paris — won’t change that.

This is where tennis and American basketball — Zverev and Xavier — diverge. Whereas there is only one Final Four per year in American college basketball, there are FOUR major tournaments every year. If Zverev did crash out early in Paris but rebounded to do well at Wimbledon, his steady upward progression would be affirmed and he wouldn’t have to regret a French Open loss. This run through Munich, Madrid and Rome has — in an unexpected but real way — downgraded expectations for Roland Garros. Speaking purely from Zverev’s point of view, he needs to take pressure OFF himself instead of adding to it in the week before he starts his campaign in Paris.

Xavier allowed the pressure of needing to make a deep tournament run to crash down upon itself earlier this year. Alexander Zverev — recalling the days of Guillermo Vilas — doesn’t have to heap pressure on his shoulders the way Xavier basketball did.

Playing with freedom from fear — which Zverev has done Zvery well over the past three weeks — is precisely what Alexander has to carry into France. Yet, even if he fails, what he has done in the month of May needs to remain a source of satisfaction which sustains him beyond the clay-court season and solidifies his long-term outlook.

  • Image taken from

ATP Tour

Roundtable — ATP Major Showdowns in 2019

Matt Zemek



Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

What is the one ATP matchup you really want to see at the major tournaments in 2019?

Before we begin:

We offered our selections for the WTA matchup we most wanted to see at the 2019 majors in this roundtable at Tennis With An Accent.

You can support our work and our grassroots tennis coverage — tailored to the dedicated tennis fan, not the clickbait-minded casual fan — at this specific link. Tell your tennis-fan friends that TWAA is a destination they can trust for sober, intellectually honest tennis analysis.

Now, on with the show, and the answers to today’s roundtable question:

JANE VOIGT — @downthetee

ATP rivalries have been concentrated at the top for over a decade. Roger Federer versus Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic, or any combination of those three, sell boatloads of tickets and even draw the attention of international celebrities. Their names will never be forgotten. However, tennis marches on, so my 2019 scorecard looks beyond the tried-and-true to the kids, such as Denis Shapovalov, Frances Tiafoe, Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Alex de Minaur for best matchups on the radar.

All four of these rising stars are court-runners, meaning they have not only raw footspeed, but anticipation. I gasped the first time Tiafoe dug out a dribbling drop shot. His takeoff speed looked like top speeds from other competitors. Then de Minaur popped up at the Citi Open in July. His slight build is a big asset, meaning he never says no to a tennis ball coming at him no matter how absurd a return seems. Tsitsipas bloomed in 2018. Shapovalov continued to impress. But for sheer “wow factor,” I say Tiafoe and de Minaur is the hot ticket. The sooner the better, too, which means the Australian Open.

ANDREW BURTON — @burtonad

In contrast to the WTA, the ATP can look forward in 2019 to the continuation of some of the most storied rivalries in the Open Era.

That’s if the top players are healthy – and of course it’s a big if, as Rafael Nadal’s knee injury in New York and Andy Murray’s and Stan Wawrinka’s slow climbs back to full fitness have demonstrated. By October 1, there won’t be a single male Grand Slam champion younger than 30. One of the younger champions, Juan Martin del Potro, has started to emulate other 30+ stars in paring back his schedule.

A few younger players have begun to establish rivalries. Sascha Zverev (21) and Nick Kyrgios (23) have played six times to date, splitting the spoils. We had a first meeting at a Grand Slam between two Generation Felix stars, Denis Shapovalov (19) and Felix Auger-Aliassime (18). (Editor’s Note: Ask Andrew what he means by Generation Felix if you are unsure of the reference. It will be worth your time.) Will that be one of the great rivalries five years from now? Perhaps.

Sorry if this isn’t very imaginative, but I go back to the Big 3 for my two main matchups to watch. After reversing fortune in 2017 against Nadal, Roger Federer hasn’t played his former nemesis once in 2018. Could we hope for some rematches in 2019? If there’s one single match I’d like to see, it’s Nadal versus Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros. Djokovic is the one player who has consistently threatened – and on one occasion beaten – Nadal in his fortress.

Bring it on, one more time.

MERT ERTUNGA – @MertovsTDesk

There is not much to say here due to the giant gap that still exists between the top 3 and the rest of the arena, so to speak. The same can be said for quality of play. When the Big 3 play each other, top-quality tennis is much more likely to be produced than in any other matchup not involving them.

Assuming they come into the two weeks not carrying injuries, Djokovic versus Nadal at Roland Garros would be my top priority for 2019. Federer-Djokovic at Wimbledon would be number two (the last two matches they played against each other there were excellent).

If I had to include a match not involving two of the top three, I would go with Juan Martin del Potro versus any of the top three at Wimbledon.

If I were forced to choose a match without any of the top three, I would take an in-form Fabio Fognini at the Australian Open or the U.S. Open versus any of the top members of the Next Gen, the people he enjoys criticizing so much in some of his pressers.

SAQIB ALI — @saqiba

Sascha Zverev versus Novak Djokovic. Zverev will win majors one day, but where will he be in 2019? I would love to see him go up against Djokovic? How quickly will Zverev develop under Ivan Lendl?

MATT ZEMEK — @mzemek

I also regard Zverev-Djokovic as the match I most want to see at the majors next year. Given Djokovic’s high ranking, it is likely that such a meeting would occur in the semifinals of a major. If it happens in the quarterfinals, so be it, but if it happens in a semifinal, it would probably mean that Zverev will have made his first major semifinal, which would spice up tennis and create fresh hope that the younger generation is ready to make its mark.

Of the eight ATP major finalists in 2018, only one – Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros – is currently younger than 30. Thiem isn’t even 26. Having a 21- or 22-year-old Zverev (he turns 22 in April of 2019) make a major semifinal or final would give tennis a glimpse of the future and offer fans of non-Big 3 players the assurance that the next decade might give rise to a championship-caliber force.

The other reason a Zverev-Djokovic match would crackle: Zverev’s win over a man who, in retrospect, was far from fully healthy in the 2017 Rome final. Zverev is the challenger and the man trying to make his mark, but Djokovic would be playing for revenge.

Djokovic would be a heavy favorite in 2019 should the two men meet, but if they do meet in a major semifinal, the confrontation might give rise to subsequent reunions in 2020 and 2021. It would move forward the story of tennis.

Postscript/addendum: If forced to pick a matchup other than Zverev-Djokovic: Thiem-Djokovic at Roland Garros. A Zverev-Djokovic match would be interesting on any surface.

Continue Reading

ATP Tour

Roundtable – “Mo Money Mo Problems”

Matt Zemek



Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Is the ATP’s suspension of Mohamed Lahyani appropriate – the result, the process, both, or neither?


Tennis authorities have sent a clear message to umpires in the last two weeks: exercise more discretion. Sorry, don’t exercise any discretion. Treat players as human beings. Wait a second, don’t do that. We value your experience. We’ll throw you under the bus as soon as anyone complains about your decisions.

Only the last of these will be heard by chair umpires, and they’ll likely act accordingly.

The ATP’s decision to fine and suspend Mohamed Lahyani after his intervention with Nick Kyrgios may have been the same even if another umpire, Carlos Ramos, hadn’t become embroiled in an even more controversial incident at the end of the tournament.

I doubt it.

You can find fault, if you choose, with either man’s handling of his respective match. Both were hung out to dry, and now we learn that at least one of the officials has been publicly sanctioned.

Their fellow officials will draw the right lessons from this: Don’t take risks. Don’t stand out. Don’t attract controversy.

If you do, be prepared to pay for it. Interpersonal skills and judgement – even occasionally flawed, human judgement – aren’t appreciated.

Get ready for robots in the chair.


Lahyani’s actions with Kyrgios were not appropriate, especially the part where he passionately talked to Nick for an extended period of time (not the part where he — at first — tried to tell him to show better effort). Hence, I see nothing wrong with some type of penalty applied to Lahyani for his actions and do not find the two-week suspension inappropriate.

I do question, however, the timing of the sanction and the entity that made the decision. The incident occurred during the U.S. Open tournament run by the ITF and the USTA, and it took place two weeks ago. One can see it as the ATP doing what the ITF and the USTA should have done expediently at the time.

There is, however, no agreeable way to justify the fact that the ATP itself waited two weeks to pass this suspension. I consider that particularity to be a procedural failure on the ATP’s part.


A hypothetical for your consideration: Arsenal plays Manchester United on August 17. Two and a half weeks later, after two more Premier League games have been played by both teams, the league announces a sanction on one of the referees for a missed call in the Arsenal-Man U match.

The Dallas Cowboys play the New York Giants in Week 2 of the NFL football season in the United States. The NFL announces a suspension for a referee who made a bad call in that game, but makes the announcement after Week 4 of the season.

An NBA basketball official makes a terrible mistake in Game 12 of the 82-game regular season. He works a 13th and 14th game but then gets suspended before his 15th game.

This is essentially what tennis did with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani. I personally disagree with a two-week suspension; I thought that relegating Lahyani to doubles matches during the second week of the tournament was punishment enough. Yet, the suspension – a result of a process – is a minor issue compared to the process itself.

This process was — and is — atrocious.

Sports officials don’t need an FBI investigation after they make a mistake. Information and context can be gathered from the relevant parties relatively quickly. People in supervisory roles look at the visual, textual and circumstance-based evidence. They determine how well an official performed. They suspend him or downgrade him or caution him within 36 hours if not 24.

I have had my (basketball) officiating performances graded right after my game ended. I met with the graders in the locker room. They talked to me about what I did right, what I did wrong, and what I needed to improve. It comes with the territory… but the process is not supposed to be prolonged.

Relegating Mo to doubles at the U.S. Open nevertheless meant he was allowed to work matches. Why should a sports official be allowed to work matches when an unresolved situation hangs over his head? What if I made a bad call in a basketball game on Monday but was then allowed to work on Thursday, did the Thursday game, and then was suspended for the next game on Saturday? Why would I have any confidence in the leadership of the officials’ association I worked for? How could I trust the governing body of the sport I was officiating?

I can see the need to wait 24 hours to gather information in situations such as this, but not much more. Workers – that is what chair umpires are – deserve swift resolution of performance-based matters. This is exactly the kind of thing a tennis umpires’ union would be able to address.

I hope umpires get angry and focused enough to band together in the right ways and for the right reasons, especially since they are already underpaid and are being given more work (monitoring serve clocks).

You can approve of the suspension itself yet hate how the ATP carried out this process. You can accept the result yet loathe how the ATP had no sense of timing — none whatsoever — in bringing it about.


Follow Andrew on Twitter: @burtonad

Follow Mert on Twitter: @MertovsTDesk

Follow Matt on Twitter: @mzemek

Follow Tennis With An Accent on Twitter: @accent_tennis

Subscribe, rate and review our podcast here.

At this link, you can support our work and sustain our mission to give you grassroots tennis coverage you can trust.

Continue Reading

ATP Tour

The Roundtable Cup — Davis and Fed and Laver

Matt Zemek



Robert Hanashiro - USA TODAY

If you ruled tennis for 24 hours, how would you arrange or rearrange Davis Cup, Fed Cup, Laver Cup, and related events, either in terms of the calendar, the format of the events, or anything else you feel is important?


With Davis Cup and Fed Cup, my initial changes would be to make the competition format the same for both the men and the women. The differing rules can be confusing, so I would use the format of Davis Cup for both genders. Why? I like the way Davis Cup highlights the doubles rubber and makes it a pivotal moment for winning a tie.

I would also make Fed Cup and Davis Cup into alternate-year events. The new Davis Cup format has retained home and away ties for the qualifying round, but I would bring that back for the final round as well. Neutral locations can be used for the first iteration; the champions earn the honor of hosting the finals the following year. That solves the issue of home ties being in an unresolved location and gives the champions the potential bragging rights of hosting the best team-competition finals.

For an exhibition such as Laver Cup, I would get rid of it with adequate changes to the national competitions. There are enough demands on players with the current schedule. If I had to keep Laver Cup, I would move it to the down period after the Australian Open.


I would consult with the players first, although the question presumes I can proceed at my own discretion.

In scheduling, I would give the priority to Davis Cup and Fed Cup because they have a history (regardless of the format change), whereas Laver Cup and other events like it qualify as “intense” exhibitions in which winning or losing does not matter as much to the players (or to the masses). I would go back to the pre-reform format in Davis Cup (in all aspects), but if I cannot, meaning my hands are forced into some type of modification, I would at least keep the three-day format with the reverse singles intact, which was a characteristic unique to Davis Cup and set the stage for a potentially dramatic weekend.

Laver Cup is a separate category of event (as I mentioned above). I would work with its runners to make the best of it, but in terms of priority, it would come after ATP and WTA Tours, Davis Cup and Fed Cup.


If I ruled tennis for 24 hours, I’d take stock of my kingdom. The first thing I think I’d conclude is that it’s broken into squabbling baronies – more Game of Thrones than the Berlin Philharmonic.

So I’d realize that until we sorted out the whole calendar, and the balance between the demands and opportunities for players, the needs of tournaments, of national organizations and trans-national groups such as the ITF, ATP and WTA, sorting out one question — non-tournament-based competitions like the Fed Cup, Pique (formerly Davis) Cup and Laver Cup —  creates issues elsewhere.

It’s all part of a web. Tug on one strand, another vibrates — or breaks.


As long as money remains the bottom-line goal of sports, in this case tennis, people will expand the number of events in order to increase income. Capitalism might have been unique to the U.S., but its supposed value has circled the globe. Therefore, as long as earnings upstage the value of players and what they bring to tennis, the expansion of the number of tournaments won’t cease. So how do we arrest this cycle?

Tennis needs an overarching body under which are all other bodies in the game fall: ITF, ATP, WTA, Grand Slams, Davis Cup, Fed Cup, and expositions such as Laver Cup. Its first job: Limit the season in order to decrease or, at least, stabilize the rash of injuries. Next: Pay players equally, no matter the level of event. Grand Slams pay all players equal amounts. However, outside of them, women are paid substantially less per tournament. Next: Throw out the newly-signed ITF legislation that eliminated home-court advantage in Davis Cup. Use best-of-three format for Davis Cup – fine. But for goodness sake, did you hear the crowds’ roars during the semifinals this past weekend?


Davis and Fed Cup should be held every year, and under their traditional formats, but the demands on ATP players at four different points on the calendar should be considered. My one tweak to Davis Cup: Give the four semifinal nations a reward for playing deep into the previous year’s calendar by giving all of them a first-round bye into the quarterfinals. This would give top ATP singles players a lot of incentive to play the quarterfinal ties each season. Since players are generally fresher early in the season, that idea makes structural sense.

In Olympic years, one could make Davis Cup an eight-team tournament with either no February ties OR, as an alternative solution, putting the quarterfinals in February and the semifinals in April. I would lean toward February quarterfinals and April semis in Olympic years.

Speaking of Olympic years: There should be no Laver Cup in Olympic years. The Laver Cup, if it really does want to be the Ryder Cup of tennis, should be held every other year, just as the Ryder Cup has been. Laver Cup would ideally be held in odd-numbered years to avoid conflicting with the Olympics. Therefore, after Geneva in 2019, the next Laver Cup should be in 2021.

What I would also like to see with Laver Cup: Rotate it through different periods of the calendar year and see if that adjustment can free up new possibilities in the tennis calendar. Late September is a time when a lot of players are worn down. Try something else and see what it can offer.

One specific set of possibilities: In 2021, move the Bercy Masters to February, specifically when the Dubai ATP tournament is normally held. Move Dubai to two weeks before the Australian Open so that the year’s first major is preceded by a 500. Move the ATP Finals to the week vacated by Bercy. Then make Laver Cup two weeks after the ATP Finals, neatly placed between the ATP Finals and the Davis Cup Final.

Have comments about these ideas? I’ll explain mine, and my colleagues will explain theirs if you ask nicely. Catch me at @mzemek.

Briana: @4TheTennis

Mert: @MertovsTDesk

Andrew: @burtonad

Jane: @downthetee

Our site: @accent_tennis

Here is how you can help us continue to cover tennis on a long-term basis while covering our costs — for paying writers, for improving the look of our site on mobile devices, and for upgrading the sound quality on our podcasts, helped by our new partners at Radio Influence.

Continue Reading