Fratangelo Wins Launceston Challenger, Breaks Top 200

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne. Photo via; Ben Rothenberg

Fratangelo watching from the stands in Melbourne.  Photo via: Ben Rothenberg

Bjorn Fratangelo had a strong 2014 season. He won five futures titles and reached the quarterfinals of two challengers. The 21 year old finished the year with a career high ranking of 261. Fratangelo’s ranking was just on the border of making the Australian Open Qualifying cut, and when The Tennis Nerds spoke to Fratangelo back in November, the Pittsburgh native seemed pretty confident he would make that cut.

Fast forward to January. Fratangelo flew to Melbourne after a decent week at the challenger in New Caledonia. He practiced with many fellow Americans, including his friend Bradley Klahn. As the days wound down, some players began to withdrawal and Bjorn was getting closer. Finally, the qualifying draw had come out; Fratangelo missed the cut by a mere two spots.

“It was brutal to be two out. It hurt, but in a way it motivated me. I tried to take positives and make it a good training week. To just be around that atmosphere is unbelievable,” Fratangelo told The Tennis Nerds Monday.

Despite missing the cut, Fratangelo stayed in Australia for three more weeks and played two $50,000 Challengers; Burnie and Launceston. He won two matches in Burnie before falling to Alex Bolt in the quarterfinals.

However, Fratangelo’s trip down under was capped by the biggest accomplishment of his professional career, as he won his maiden challenger title in Launceston, defeating a promising 18 year old, Hyeon Chung, 4-6 6-2 7-5.

“This win makes it all worth it. I put in a lot of work in Melbourne and it paid off,” Fratangelo said. “I thought (the final) was a good match from both of us. The ball striking was great. I think the crowd enjoyed it as well.”

Chung is already nearing the top 10o, and had just won the title in Burnie the week prior. The level of play from both, especially in the third set, was incredibly solid. Fratangelo had many chances in the third set, and finally broke serve after a marathon game at 5-5. On one deuce point, the two engaged in a very long exchange that ended with the American receiving some good fortune.

“That crazy drop shot I hit at 5 all got under his skin a bit. That was the luckiest shot I’ve ever hit,” Fratangelo said.

The title earned Fratangelo 80 ranking points, and he soared up the ATP rankings to a career high of #172 Monday. By comparison, in June of 2014, the American was as low at #535. The new ranking gives the American more opportunities to play higher level events.

“The ranking is definitely higher than I thought it would be,” Fratangelo said. “I’m gonna try to ride the wave out where I basically have no points coming off. Im gonna play Indian wells qualifying and then Irving(challenger). Now that I’m up there a bit I wanna keep testing myself against guys close to the top 100.”

Fratangelo’s roommate in Florida is fellow young American Mitchell Krueger, who himself has had a nice start to 2015. You can read our Q&A with Krueger here. Krueger won the doubles title in Launceston with Radu Albot, taking out the team of Hubble/Statham 11-9 in the third set super-tiebreak.

Fratangelo and Krueger have spent a lot of time together through juniors and now professionally.

“We’re like brothers. We’re sarcastic towards each together, and we have fun together,” Fratangelo said. “He’s an easy guy to get along with and live with. He’s helped me a lot as far as traveling goes. He can go for months, where I start to lose it a bit after a few weeks, but traveling with him has made me calm down a lot.”

Full match replay of Launceston Final:

http://new.livestream.com/accounts/5057055/events/3782996/videos/77163414/player?autoPlay=false&height=360&mute=false&width=640

Dimitrov Reportedly Testing New Head Racket in Rotterdam

Alleged picture of Dimitrov's new Head Racket. Photo via: Chiara Gambuzza

Alleged picture of Dimitrov’s new Head Racket. Photo via: Chiara Gambuzza

Grigor Dimitrov played his first round match in Rotterdam with a blacked out racket that bears a lot of similarities to a Head frame. After struggling for much of the match, Dimitrov regrouped to defeat Paul-Henri Mathieu in three sets, 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2.

Dimitrov has been testing new rackets for some time now; he was playing with a blacked out Wilson frame in Paris-Bercy last year and then again at the Australian Open in January. Pictured above is Dimitrov’s Head racket reportedly getting strung from December of 2014. Rumors had been swirling of a switch to Head, but when Dimitrov showed up in Melbourne with a Wilson stencil many of those rumors were quieted.

However, in Rotterdam, Dimitrov had no stencil on the racket, and the design of the frame and grommets appears very similar to a Head frame.  More specifically, the rackets bears many resemblances to the Head Prestige line, which is historically one of the most popular players frames.

Dimitrov’s blacked out Racket has no wilson stencil. Photo via: Marcos Zugasti

Dimitrov is no stranger to the feel of a Head racket. He played with one throughout his Junior career as well as his early pro years.

Dimitrov in Rotterdam  2009 with Head Racket

Dimitrov in Rotterdam 2009 with Head Racket

The head size of Dimitrov’s racket appears to be 98 sq. inches, and the string pattern is 16×19. Roger Federer’s switch to the larger head size has garnered much attention from both the media and fellow players. Dimitrov, whose game is remarkably similar to the Swiss great, may just well be taking a page out of Federer’s book. The two players practice together often and surely Dimitrov was tempted by Federer’s success in 2014 with the larger frame. Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov’s girlfriend, also uses a Head racket.

In the match against Mathieu, Dimitrov’s timing appeared to be slightly off, and he struggled to hit the return of serve cleanly. While Dimitrov’s return has always been one of his weaker shots, it was noticeably off for much of the match Monday. However, Dimitrov was getting quite a bit of pace on his first serve, topping the 220 km/hr mark on multiple occasions. As the match progressed, Dimitrov did appear to get more comfortable and started to really strike the ball well late in the second set and into the third.

Adjusting to a new frame is not easy, and it often takes a fair amount of time before players get comfortable and confident with their new stick. Dimitrov fell to Andy Murray in January at the Australian Open, and executed one of the better racket smashes you will ever see.

While that reaction was likely just built up frustration after failing to close out the fourth set, could that be the last time we see Dimitrov with a Wilson racket?

 

Question and Answer: Mitchell Krueger

Krueger in action at USC.

Krueger in action at USC.

Mitchell Krueger celebrated his 21st birthday back in January, and he did so in style, winning the $15,000 Los Angeles Futures title on the same day he became legally allowed to order an alcoholic drink. Krueger had a successful junior career before turning pro at the age of 18. Now starting his third year on tour, the Dallas-Fort Worth native has reached a career high ranking of 311 in the world, and should move a few spots higher after picking up a win at the Burnie Challenger. The Tennis Nerds spoke with Krueger about his adjustment to life on tour, goals for the future, and much much more.

(Editors note: Make sure you read to the bottom, the quick fire questions at the end are some of the best)

The Tennis Nerds: You’re in Australia AGAIN! You’ve spent quite a bit of time over there the last 12 months. I know you joked it was almost your FIRST home at this point. What goes into your scheduling decisions? Does playing in an English-speaking country make you feel more comfortable? Give the average fan a short breakdown on why you schedule the way you do.

Mitchell Krueger: Yeah I’ve definitely spent a lot of time down in Australia. I honestly think I’ve been there more over the last four months than I have in Florida(laughing).

Well for one, I’m not afraid to travel outside the U.S. and leave my comfort zone a bit. I feel like too many Americans get comfortable just staying within North America and end up limiting themselves. To me, it gets a little tiring playing the same guys each and every tournament. A huge part of being a professional tennis player is enjoying the travel and I think my game benefits from seeing different competition, surfaces, and conditions all the time.

TTN: You started the year with a title at the $15k in LA, beating some strong players in the process. Do you see that result as a springboard for things to come? Does it take some pressure off in the coming weeks knowing you started the year well?

Krueger: That result was definitely huge for my confidence going into the beginning of the year. It’s always a great feeling to win a tournament, and for it to happen so early in the season gives me some added belief that I can really take a big step forward this year. I’m really excited for 2015.

TTN: What was your offseason like this year? Where did you train and what were you focusing on?

Krueger: I actually didn’t have a traditional offseason this year because I ended up playing a tournament in the Dominican Republic right before Christmas. The past two years we’ve always shut it down right around Thanksgiving and had a solid four week training block to get ready for the coming year. But this year I only really had two weeks. I was down in Boca Raton and managed to get some good fitness work in with Pat Etcheberry and court time with my coach Stan Boster. I actually think having such a short offseason helped me continue to play good tennis into the new year because the break between tournaments wasn’t too long.

TTN: Often times when you’re traveling to these tournaments you’ll go with a group of either fellow Americans or other players. Who are your favorite guys to travel with and why? Who provides the most comedic entertainment?

Krueger: I’ve definitely spent the most time traveling with Bjorn(Fratangelo), Brad(Klahn), and Jarmere(Jenkins). We all get along with each other great and know how to push one another to get better. It’s never a dull moment when we’re all together that’s for sure. I mean it’s hard not to give the comedic crown to the guy that has several hundred thousand views on a YouTube video of him face planting on concrete. It made me laugh so hard I started crying the first time I saw it(laughing).

TTN: When I talked to Bjorn(Fratangelo) a couple months ago, he said he had just finished stringing a racket. Do you string any of your own rackets?

Krueger: As much as my mom has begged me to learn, I still don’t know how to string rackets. When I’m training, the absolute last thing I want to do in my free time is string a racket. To me, that extra thirty minutes of sitting on the couch is worth the price of getting it strung by someone else(laughing).

TTN: American men’s tennis has gotten plenty of negative attention in the last few years. Does that motivate you guys? What is your view on the years ahead for American tennis?

Krueger: It’s a huge motivation to me. Very few people that report that kind of stuff actually realize the amount of work and sacrifice that goes into being a world class tennis player. It’s very frustrating when people talk about how Americans just don’t want it bad enough. I think in the next few years these same people will start to eat their words. I’m very optimistic and excited for the future of American men’s tennis. I’ve seen the work that myself and many others have put in, and I know it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world is able to see it too.

TTN: I know the debate between turning pro or going to college was relevant in your life and it’s been a big talking point lately. Now that you’ve spent a couple years on tour, what are your thoughts looking back on that decision?

Krueger: Obviously being an American, going to college and getting an education is something most kids are taught to strive for from a very young age. I can only speak for myself because everybody’s situation is different. I have absolutely no regrets in my decision to turn pro. The fact that I can wake up every day and devote myself 100% to getting better without any other distractions is amazing. Whenever I’m done playing tennis, I can always go back to school somewhere and get a degree if I want. There’s no age limit. The window for a person to make a living playing tennis is so small when compared to the rest of their life. I’m glad I made the decision to give myself the absolute best chance possible to reach my dreams.

TTN: There was a rather funny twitter exchange where your mental strength was discussed. It’s always seemed like one of the stronger points of your game. Where does that come from? How much did your upbringing and environment influence that?

Krueger: (Laughing) That tweet actually took me a bit by surprise because I seriously consider that one of the strongest aspects of my game. And I take it that Jarmere agrees with me because he actually had my back for once (laughing). I’ve always been insanely competitive in anything I do. I’ve never tanked anything in my entire life. I pride myself on never giving up on anything, whether it’s on court or off. Anyone that knows me can tell you the exact same thing. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew I could’ve given a little bit more effort. Win or lose, I can always rest easy knowing I gave it everything I had.

TTN: Which part of your game are you working on most specifically to improve right now?

Krueger: Right now I’m working mostly on really owning all my shots and understanding the ways I can use my game to win points and matches. Over the last couple years I’ve put a ton of time into strengthening both my serve and my forehand, and I think this next piece will really bring my game together. I’m very happy with the progress I’ve made and I’m excited to keep it going through the rest of 2015 and beyond.

TTN: You’re about to hit a career high ranking just a few spots outside the top 300. What are some of your short and long term goals ranking wise?

Krueger: Well my first really short term goal is to break top 300. After that, my goal is to make qualies of the slams this summer. I’m obviously getting close right now but I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself to hit a certain number. I know if I keep putting in the work and giving myself opportunities each week, I’ll keep moving up the rankings.

————————————————————————————————

Quick Fire Q’s

Favorite airline?

Krueger: American Airlines all the way. Hit platinum for the second year in a row.

Go-to drink and/or snack on flights?

Krueger: Either water or sprite. Sometimes Apple juice.

Again, on flights–Music, movie, book, or something else?

Krueger: I usually go all three. Movies if it’s a long flight. Music when I’m trying to sleep. And a book if I run out of good movies to watch.

Favorite challenger you’ve played?

Krueger: Gotta be Challenger of Dallas. Can’t go against my home tournament! Maui is a very close second though.

Favorite futures you’ve played?

Krueger: Probably some of the futures in Italy because of the food. Love the pizza.

Dallas Mavericks or Dallas Cowboys?

Krueger: This is tough. Probably gotta say Cowboys just because it’s easier to follow while I’m traveling because of their shorter season. I’ve been to more Mavs games though.

Tony Romo or Demarco Murray?

Krueger: Tony Romo all the way. Screw all the haters.(laughing)

Better NFL prospect: Stefan Kozlov or Nathan Ponwith?

Krueger: Koz probably won’t like this, but I gotta say that Ponwith’s catch off my perfect pass while being defended was a thing of beauty. At this point though, the Dolphins could definitely use Koz on offense. I really hope he reads this. (laughing)

Eat out or cook?

Krueger: Definitely eat out. As Bjorn can vouch for me, living with an Italian for the last few years has made me not want to embarrass myself in the kitchen.

Federer or Nadal?

Krueger: Federer for sure. He’s a GOAT.

 

Question and Answer: Jarmere Jenkins (Part 2)

Jenkins found much success in Australia

Jenkins found success in Australia

Jarmere Jenkins, an NCAA champion at the University of Virginia, talked to us a little over a year ago as he began his journey on the pro tour. You can read that Q&A here. 2014 saw Jenkins go through some incredible highs as well as some forgettable lows. At 24, he cracked the top 200 for the first time, and finished the year at no. 192 in the world. We spoke to Jenkins on a variety of subjects.

The Tennis Nerds: First full year on tour, what stood out to you the most?

Jarmere Jenkins: How important faith, family and friends are. This is a brutal sport to play alone. I’m convinced you can’t do it by yourself. Had it not been for them I would have quit a long time ago.

TTN: Finally the offseason, got any plans?

Jenkins: I’ll be in Boca doing on court with USTA and working on my fitness with Richard Woodruff. Just trying to maximize that time in preparation for Australian Open quallies.

TTN: A large majority of your points came from challengers and futures in Australia, what about that country made you so successful?

Jenkins: I honestly don’t know. I’ve developed some really good relationships over there so it’s kinda like home away from home at this point. Could be because it’s so far away. I know if I lose a match I can’t hop on a plane and be home in a couple hours. Just have to go to work and bring it every single day. Seems to be working.

TTN: You are certainly “earning” your way up the ladder. Other than French Open quallies, you played exclusively ITFs and Challengers. How tough is that?

Jenkins: It’s really tough. But nothing feels better than earning your way up the ladder. I’ve played tournaments where I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. Now I feel like I’m putting in the work and paying my dues to belong.

TTN: Playing off that, prize money at those levels is pretty brutal. ATP site has you at $27K(that’s without your last futures title). You picked up a lot of points, but how do you manage to stay positive when the paychecks are so low?

Jenkins: I’m crazy.

TTN: How prevalent, in your experiences, is match-fixing? Have you seen it/heard about it?

Jenkins:  I receive messages and hate mail about it through my Facebook account. But never from players or coaches. I’ve heard about a couple instances or rumors. But nothing firsthand.

TTN: When we talked last year you said fitness was a key point of focus for your game. How has that progressed?

Jenkins: Yes. I’m stoked that I’ve finally gotten to a point where I’m witnessing my hard work pay off. Credit to my trainer Richard and his impact performance team in Florida. He’s really helped me take my fitness to the next level and I still have so many levels more to improve on.

TTN: You had various fellow American’s traveling to the same tournaments as you throughout the year(Klahn, Krueger etc), how important is it to have friends out there with you?

Jenkins: Very important. We all have the same goals plus I grew up with Klahn. It helps because we push each other in practice everyday to get better. We’re all trying to take American tennis to the top.

TTN: With that futures title, you move up inside the the top 200. Any significance in that?

Jenkins: Yes. Just a tribute to the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made to get there. Definitely wasn’t an easy road but I’m excited and grateful for it. My ultimate goal is much further than that.

TTN: Gotta talk about your EPIC tweet

— what was going through your head at that time?

Jenkins: Tennis is a cruel sport sometimes. Up 6-3,5-3 40-15 serving I tasted the defeat only to have it ripped from me. It was devastating at first and I was crushed. But it lit a fire in me that burned for weeks in Australia and I could easily argue had it not been for that loss I wouldn’t have played so well the following weeks.

TTN: Most in the tennis world have seen your legendary face-plant by now. What kind of reaction have you gotten for that and are you able to laugh about it now?

Jenkins: I’ve always thought it was hilarious. Probably the single most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done. My ex-girlfriend was watching from the sideline. I’m pretty sure that destroyed any chance I’ll ever have of getting back with her! (laughing)

TTN: You built a solid base of points at the end of the year, what does your schedule look like for the start of 2015?

Jenkins: Noumea challenger. Aussie quallies. Maui challenger. Then back “home” to Australia for some challengers.

TTN: Do you think next year is when you can make the breakthrough to the tour level? You’re not far off now. How hungry are you?

Jenkins: I think 2015 will be a special year for me. I’m all in. I really believe I have something special within me to make the breakthrough. In due time.

Kozlov Makes History Sweeping Orange Bowl Titles Capping Huge 2014

Mmozlov

Stefan Kozlov and Michael Mmoh Celebrate after winning the Orange Bowl Doubles Title. Photo via Mmoh’s Instagram

 

American Stefan Kozlov has been in his fair share of big matches. In December of 2013, Kozlov reached the final of the ITF Orange Bowl, but fell in a close three set match to fellow American Francis Tiafoe. In 2014, Kozlov had reached the finals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon Junior Championships. On each occasion he fell just short.

He flipped the script Sunday, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece 2-6 6-3 6-2 to claim the Orange Bowl singles title. Only a couple of hours later he teamed with Michael Mmoh to defeat the number 2 seeds Yungseong Chung and Seong Chan Hong 6-4 7-6(5) to win the doubles title. Kozlov became the first player since Mariano Zabaleta(ARG) in 1995 to win both the Orange Bowl singles and doubles title in the same year.

A common storyline in the U.S. tennis world has been the lack of success in men’s tennis. The last American man to win a Grand Slam was Andy Roddick at the 2003 US Open. Roddick was also the last U.S. man to hold the number 1 ranking.

American tennis fans may not have to wait much longer. Kozlov is leading the charge amongst a large pack of talented juniors.

There are currently twelve Americans in the top 100 of the ITF Junior boys rankings, and as recently as last week there were four in the top 11. Francis Tiafoe fell out this week because he opted not to play the Orange Bowl, which he won in 2013. For the first time in over two decades, six Americans made the quarterfinals of the Orange Bowl. American Sam Riffice also became the first man since Grigor Dimitrov to claim Eddie Herr and Orange Bowl U16 titles in back to back weeks.

Perhaps what makes these guys so fun to watch is that they are all seemingly great friends. Just take a look through social media and you’ll quickly learn how much fun they have cracking jokes and messing around. When one guy does well, the others are always quick to congratulate them.

The U.S. will finish 2014 with three boys in the top 10 as well as eight in the top 50, with Kozlov leading the way at no. 3 in the world, having played only seven junior events all year.

Kozlov spent a larger portion of his schedule playing professionally, and came up just short on multiple occasions. He notably pushed top 100 player Sam Groth to a third set tiebreak in Washington DC.

“Whenever I get an opportunity to play in these tournaments my level rises so much. I think that I’m there with these guys to be honest,” Kozlov told The Tennis Nerds in July.

He certainly proved that statement to be true, and his success culminated with an incredible week at the Sacramento Challenger in October. As a wildcard, Kozlov defeated Ryan Harrison, J.P. Smith, Rhyne Williams and Tim Smyczek before losing out to Sam Querrey in the final. Kozlov’s on court IQ is unprecedented, and it was on display as he outsmarted players well beyond his age.

What made his accomplishment even more impressive was that each of his wins required three sets. He was even cramping at one point in the third set against then no. 99 Smyczek.

Kozlov had issues in the past with his fitness, but spent good blocks of time in 2014 to improve that aspect of his game.

He told Colette Lewis that his training block in November with the USTA was very productive. “I went to Cali for about three weeks to work with Jose and Pat Etcheberry. It was fun, but it wasn’t pleasant,” he said.

The Macedonian-born American stands at almost 6 feet tall, which his not exactly huge in this sport.

“Moving forward, tennis is a very physical sport, and with my height and size matches are going to be really physical,” Kozlov told The Tennis Nerds in Washington.

Kozlov’s hard work paid off, finishing the year with a singles/doubles sweep of the Orange Bowl. He finished the year as the highest ranked 16 year old in the ATP at no. 467. Most of those points came from the Sacramento Challenger, and won’t come off his ranking until October of 2015.

American tennis fans have had their patience tested, but that test should be coming to an end soon. The future is now.

Breaking Down The ATP Prize Money Increase: It Makes Sense

News broke Friday that the ATP had announced significant prize money increases for both the Masters 1000 and ATP World Tour 250 events in the years to come.

Here’s the full statement:

The ATP has announced significant increases over the next four years that will see overall player compensation on the ATP World Tour reach US$135 million by 2018. Player compensation at ATP World Tour events in 2015 will exceed US$100 million for the first time.

The increases at ATP events are a testament to the sustained success of men’s professional tennis, as well as demonstrating the ATP’s confidence in the strength of its product and projected growth in future years.

The biggest increases in player compensation come at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 category, with tournaments providing annual increases of 11%, and with the ATP contributing a further 3% increase, resulting in a 14% annual increase in that category through to 2018. Player compensation at the ATP World Tour 250s is set to increase at an average of 3.5% per year during the same period.

The latest decisions at Masters 1000 and 250-level mean that player compensation is now confirmed across all three ATP World Tour tournament categories for a four-year period. Player compensation for a five-year period for the ATP World Tour 500 category was decided at the end of 2013.

Many in the tennis world voiced their opinions on the increase(and what didn’t increase). A recurring theme across twitter Friday was that both the ATP Challenger Tour and the ITF Futures Tour were being neglected from the prize money increase. These lower levels of professional tennis have been brought up much more in recent months, notably for their poor conditions and lack of funding.

The Tennis Nerds are especially keen followers of the Challenger Tour, and we always wish for nothing but success for the endless “Foot Soldiers of Tennis“, if you will. Challenger tennis is one of the purest forms of competition; as Bradley Klahn told us in 2013, “every day there is a person across the net trying to steal your lunch money.”

However, the popular notion that the ATP should “restructure” their prize money breakdown to include the Challenger tour is simply misguided.

And before we get too far, let’s remember that Futures tournaments are run by the ITF, not the ATP. The ATP has no responsibility to maintain funding at those events. Prize money at that level is solely on the shoulders of the ITF.

If you take only one thing from this piece, let it be this: tennis is entertainment.

Just like all other sanctioned sporting leagues, the Association of Tennis Professionals is, quite simply, entertainment. Now this may seem obvious, but it is critical to understanding where and why prize money is distributed.

Tennis players are not paid for winning tennis matches. Tennis players are paid because people(fans) are paying to watch them. Whether they are watching in person, on TV, or online, each fan contributes to the overall revenue of the ATP

Masters 1000’s, who are receiving the largest chunk of the increase(14% increase annually through 2018), have been widely successful over the last decade. With three of the greatest players to ever play the sport at the top of the game, attendance, sponsorships as well as TV broadcast numbers have gone through the roof. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Indian Wells set their attendance record in 2014 for the eight consecutive year, with 431,527 fans attending the tournament. (Indian Wells is a joint ATP/WTA event.)
  • Cincinnati also set their attendance record in 2014, with 191, 752 fans coming through the gates. (Also a combined event)
  • Shanghai has been voted as the Masters 1000 tournament of the year for the past five years. Their attendance, TV broadcast deals and sponsorships have increased rapidly since the tournaments inception in 2008.
  • Toronto and Montreal (Roger’s Cup) set their attendance records in 2010 and 2011, respectively; years when the ATP event was held in each city. (The ATP and WTA alternate venues each year)

To put it simply, these are the tournaments that matter. Outside of the four Majors, the nine Masters 1000 events generate the most revenue in the tennis world. Tournaments are ever-expanding; new stadiums and facilities are being announced at an astonishing rate.

On the other side of the net is the Challenger tour. While some tournaments are successful in drawing crowds and sponsorships, the tour as a whole has struggled to maintain relevance. And those challengers that do bring in crowds, such as Mons(broke attendance record in ’14) and Sarasota, have higher prize money and points available. Those tournaments were not simply given the $100,000 title, they earned it by proving relevance and quality entertainment.

The Napa Challenger has been mentioned as a candidate to increase their total financial commitment in the coming years. That is not going to simply be handed to them by the ATP; they’ll need to secure sponsorships and promote the tournament on their own. I’m sure they’ll be able to do so, but not because of a gift from the ATP.

There is a separate conversation to be had about the ATP’s promotion(or lack thereof) of challengers. However, do consider that nearly every tournament now has at least one streamed court, and Josh Meiseles writes a weekly recap of each tournament. This is certainly an improvement from years past, and perhaps with a growing audience, the Challenger Tour will eventually get a prize money increase of its own. But it would get that increase because they deserved it.

Again, let me stress that the The Tennis Nerds are huge backers of the Challenger Tour. We find it to be great entertainment. But, at least for the time being, a majority of tennis fans do not.

Top 10 Statement Wins on the ATP World Tour in 2014

“Statement Win”–not only defeating your opponent, but accomplishing other victories in the process. Whether it be overcoming a lopsided head-to-head record, putting a beat-down on a top rival, getting your name out to the world, or simply playing your best tennis, a statement win is about more than just a notch in the win column. (See also: highlight win, signature win, etc.) 

2014 was another incredible year in tennis, and with the season wrapping up, The Tennis Nerds will look back and highlight some of the best moments from the past twelve months. We’ll try to stray from the norm–“Best points” “Best matches” etc–and give a little variety for our readers. You can find the Top 10 matches of the year just about anywhere. Today, I countdown the Top 10 Statement Wins of 2014. Comment if you agree/disagree or have thoughts on the best statement wins of the year!

10. Kei Nishikori d. Novak Djokovic 6-3 1-6 7-6(4) 6-3 US Open SF

Nishikori was the young gun who made the best breakthrough in 2014, finishing the year ranked a career high #5 in the world and reaching a Grand Slam final in the process. After two five-set marathon wins over Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka, few if any expected Nishikori to have much left in the tank for his Semifinal showdown with Novak Djokovic. He had been hampered by a recurring left foot injury for much of the summer, and looked out of the tournament when he took a medical timeout trailing two sets to one against Raonic. To add insult to injury, Nishikori had spent over 8 hours on court in his previous two matches. A windy day in Flushing led to some inconsistent play early, but after Djokovic won the second set 6-1, Nishikori looked on the ropes. He refused to give in to the sweltering heat of that day, and pulled off a shocking upset over the World #1. More shocking? He beat him at his own game.

9. Stan Wawrinka d. Roger Federer 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 Monte Carlo F

The fact that Wawrinka is only on this list once is probably a huge mistake on my part. His 5 set epic over Djokovic was deserving, but I felt that this win was actually more significant in terms of mental strength. Coming into the final, Federer led the head to head matchup with his Swiss friend 13-1. FIFTEEN TO ONE. Federer owned his compatriot. Stan struggled not as much with forehands and backhands, but with his head. Mentally he was inferior. So when he lost the first set–playing pretty well–the outcome of the match looked clear. Federer was going to win his first Monte Carlo title. Wawrinka started to hold serve much easier in the second set, and although he gave up a break lead, the Lausanne native sealed the second set tiebreak with a serve and volley overhead winner. He ran away with the third set, tearing the cover off the ball on both wings. Federer was not playing poorly whatsoever, but Wawrinka was just too good.

8. Federer d. Murray 6-0 6-1 ATP World Tour Finals RR

By scoreline alone this one could have been number one. Andy Murray had a subpar 2014 campaign, but looked to be back in good form during the fall season. He won titles in Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia to earn himself a spot in the World Tour Finals. His match with Federer was his final round robin match, and he needed a straight sets win to reach the semifinals. Playing in front of a home London crowd, Murray laid an egg, while Federer was on fire. If it weren’t for a few bad unforced errors at 6-0 5-0, Federer would have delivered the Scot a double bagel. Still, Federer proved that he was in far superior form, attacking second serves and approaching the net at will. He was off the court in 56 minutes, handing Murray the worst loss of his career.

It was so bad there aren’t even highlights on YouTube! (But here’s a Hotshot)

7. Novak Djokovic d. Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-3 Miami F

Djokovic came into the Miami final having just won Indian Wells. He was attempting the difficult IW-Miami double in back to back weeks, and had to face one Rafael Nadal in the final. What unfolded was a comprehensive, dominant performance. Djokovic went at the Nadal forehand relentlessly, which opened his two best attacking shots; the inside out forehand and backhand down the line. He was in full flight on return, putting everything Nadal threw at him within feet of the baseline. The last few matches of this rivalry had been back and forth, with Nadal winning 3 of the last 5. You felt like this match would serve as a good barometer to show where each player was at, and it did. Match point was pretty decent as well.

6. Marin Cilic d. Roger Federer 6-3 6-3 6-4 US Open SF

Hard to find words for this one. Just a look at the score pretty much tells the story. After looking….shaky against Gilles Simon in the fourth round of the US Open, Cilic started playing the best tennis of his career. This match was astonishing in particular. His liability in years past was often his forehand, but he was outhitting even Federer on that side. He was standing up on the baseline, giving his opponent nothing to work with. Federer wasn’t great, but he also wasn’t bad, which made this result one of the most surprising of 2014. The crowd tried to get Federer into the match throughout, but Cilic silenced them on every occasion with booming serves and flat, penetrating groundstrokes. Cilic claimed his first win in six tries over the 17-time major winner, and went on to beat Nishikori for his first Grand Slam title.

5. Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray 6-3 6-2 6-1 French Open SF

It was a down year by Nadal’s insane standard, but he managed to win his 9th Rolland Garros title in relatively simple fashion, dropping only two sets the entire tournament. His most impressive performance came in the semifinals against Murray, who appeared to be back in good form after struggling with his return from back injury. Murray had taken Nadal the distance in Rome just two weeks prior, and this semifinal had the chance to replicate that competitive scoreline. It didn’t. Things started off badly for Murray, and they didn’t get any better. Nadal had time on all his shots, and was dictating play from the get-go. Yes, Nadal is the undisputed clay court GOAT, but to beat one of his best rivals, only losing 6 games in the process was a massive effort.

http://youtu.be/UDS-Mgh7wbg (FFT disables embedded video)

4. Novak Djokovic d. Tomas Berdych 6-0 6-2 Beijing F

Beijing seems to treat Djokovic pretty well. He’s won the 500 event all five times he’s chosen to play it. In fact, he’s only dropped *THREE SETS* in 24 matches played. The final in 2014 was, in a way, just another dominant performance from the Serb. But this might have been the best match Djokovic has ever played. Save for getting broken at 6-0 5-0, the world #1 played flawless tennis. He broke Berdych’s serve six times and never looked troubled. The quotes from both players after the match tell the story.

Berdych: “I just said to my coach now that I probably played over 700 matches in my career, and I met guys like Andre, Roger, all those probably in their best times. But I have never, ever experienced anything like that.”

Djokovic: “This has been, in the circumstances, probably the best performance of any final in my career. I have played some great finals, had some convincing wins, some straight-set wins against top rivals. But with this kind of performance and with this domination result-wise, I mean it’s never happened.”

3. Roger Federer d. Novak Djokovic 6-4 6-4 Shanghai SF

As stated in #4, Djokovic was playing unbelievably well during the fall swing. When Federer and Djokovic set the semifinal showdown in Shanghai, Novak was the betting favorite. Still, most in tennis expected a fascinating encounter. Well, it was fascinating. Djokovic played well, but the guy on the other side of the net was a different animal. Federer turned back the clock, and played as well as I’ve seen from him in years. The Edberg net-attacking gameplan coupled with an aggressive baseline game put Federer in vintage form. Vintage is a word that is used too often with Federer, but this really was a vintage performance. Federer halted Djokovic’s incredible 28 match win streak in China, sending a message that he was not going to finish the year quietly.

Federer: “It was a great match, I agree. I think I played very well. There was nothing in the game today that wasn’t working. I think it was a high-level match. I’m unbelievably happy with the way it went.”

Djokovic: “I think I did not play too bad.It’s just that he played everything he wanted to play. He played the perfect match. I think he’s going to tell you how he felt, but that’s how I felt he played. He played an amazing match.”

2. Grigor Dimitrov d. Andy Murray 6-1 7-6(5) 6-2 Wimbledon QF

I’m guessing that many of you will think I’m putting this too high on the list. (And please, let me know what you think!) But when I first came up with the idea for this Top 10, this match was the first thing that came to mind. Murray(on the wrong side of this list for the third time) was truly playing well at Wimbledon through the first four rounds. He had not dropped a set, while Dimitrov had just scraped through a 5 setter with Alex Dolgopolov. But Dimitrov was on a mission during this quarterfinal. He had already made the QFs at the Australian Open, and won two titles in 2014–Acapulco and Bucharest. But the Bulgarian made his official arrival to the top of the sport at SW19, blowing Murray off the court in the process. After every game you thought that Murray would find a way back, but he didn’t come close. Dimitrov’s shotmaking was incredible, and his backhand slice proved critical in a straight set dismantling of the defending champion.

1. Nick Kyrgios d. Rafael Nadal 7-6(5) 5-7 7-6(5) 6-3 Wimbledon R16

Finally! Number 1. (It took way too long to write this) Is there really any other option here? Kyrgios, 19, went out onto Center Court at the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, and took out Rafael Nadal in stunning fashion. Nadal certainly did play poorly. The match was taken out of his hands by the young Australian, who was bursting with confidence. Kyrgrios’ win was pretty much the definition of a breakout performance. Ranked outside the top 100 at the time of their meeting, Kyrgios looked like he belonged from the onset. Dozens of aces, massive winners, and even a jaw-dropping tweener set the tone as Kyrgios shocked the tennis world. (Actually, he actually shocked the ENTIRE world because of the Drake Drama!)