Djokovic destroys Nadal to win first Qatar Open title

January 9, 2016

QATAR EXXONMOBIL OPEN—DOHA, QATAR

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic continued his ruthless domination of the ATP World Tour on Saturday at the Qatar Open, dismissing No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal 6-1, 6-2 in 1:13 minutes.

Djokovic, who controlled the match from start to finish, hit 16 winners in the first set alone. Winning 79 percent of his first serve points, 73 percent of his second serve points and breaking serve on four occasions, Djokovic improved to 24-23 in lifetime meetings against the Spaniard. Nadal, who is currently ranked No. 5 in the world, was playing in his 99th career final.

Djokovic not only added to his ranking point total by winning the event, but he also took home the 60th title of his illustrious career. The Serb has now played in the final of every single event that he’s entered since the Aussie Open in 2015. Both Djokovic and Nadal will next see action at the Australian Open next week in Melbourne to kick off the Grand Slam season.

Q&A with Steve Johnson: The US Open is still his favourite

January 5, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

Coming off of a banner year where he achieved an ATP World Tour ranking of No. 31, American Steve Johnson is adamant on taking the next step in his career during the 2016 season. Remaining one of the hardest workers on Tour, while possessing one of the biggest serve and forehand combinations on the circuit, Johnson’s tenacity and perspective toward the sport remain inspiring to his up-and-coming peers.

In the interview below, Johnson discusses the keys to his ever evolving game and what he’ll need to improve on to take the plunge into the world’s top 20.

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1. What would you determine as the key ingredient to your overall success in 2015 as it pertains to your career high ranking and singles record?

This year (2015) was my third year on Tour, so I feel like I learned a lot from the first two years. I would say gaining valuable tour experience was the biggest ingredient.

2. How important was it for you to make your first ATP World Tour final in Vienna?

Vienna was a great week as it was a 500-level tournament and it was really big for me to make the final. I was close to taking the title, and the experience I gained in the final will give me confidence in the future.

3. You’ve made considerable improvements to your backhand in the past 18 months. Was it more of a technical approach you made to the stroke or a mental one?

I am always trying to improve and I think it was both a technical and mental (approach). With that being said, I need to also make sure that I keep my weapons at the forefront of my game.

4. In order to break into the top 20 in 2016, what aspects of your game will you look to improve on?

Just to be more consistent week-in and week-out. I know I am capable of beating the top players so I just need to focus on consistency.

5. How many hours of training do you typically put in during the off-season as opposed to the regular season?

It depends but typically I’ll be on the court for two to three hours and in the gym I’m doing weights and fitness for another one and a half hours per day.

6. What is your best on court memory that you will take away from 2015?

Reaching the finals of Vienna, and also my Davis Cup experience.

7. Who would you rate as the most promising up-and-coming American player?

There are some really good young ones coming up. Reilly Opelka, Taylor Fritz, Tommy Paul and some others as well. All those guys have a lot of promise, they just need to continue working hard.

8. Finally, what would you consider your favourite court to play on in the world and why?

The US Open, which is our home slam and because there’s nothing like it. I also had a few good years on the courts at the University of Southern California. Some great memories there as well.

Q&A with John Isner: The 2016 season and Sunday afternoon Football

January 5, 2016

by: Nima Naderi

Currently ranked No. 11 in the world and finishing the 2015 season with an impressive 45-25 singles record, towering American John Isner has every intention of finishing 2016 ranked inside the top 10 of the ATP World Tour. Holding 10 career titles to his name, Isner slammed home 1260 aces during 2015 but what was arguably even more impressive was his consistent results outside of the United States. Reaching the quarterfinals of both the Mutua Madrid Masters and the BNP Paribas Masters, Isner proved that his powerful arsenal can translate to surfaces other than hard-courts.

In the interview below, Isner looks back at 2015 and gives us his thoughts on the upcoming year. The 30-year-old also discloses what he’s looking to change in his game heading into 2016 and finally his favourite way of enjoying the off-season.

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1. Looking back at the 2015 season, what would you say you’re most proud of in terms of your overall results on Tour?

It was a solid year overall. I made a lot of improvements with my game and I think the results showed. I also had some good results outside of the States which is always nice!

2. Finishing at No. 11 in the world was a great accomplishment in 2015. What changes are you looking to make heading into 2016 in order to finish higher in the rankings?

Not too many changes but to continue to improve and build on the year that I had. I hired a new coach for 2015 (Justin Gimelstob) and we will continue in 2016 and build on the improvements in my game.

3. Do you design your tournament schedule to peak at the Grand Slams, or does every tournament hold equal value for you?

Every tournament is important, but of course I would like to be at my best for the Grand Slams. In order to do that though, I need to have the same mentality at all the events so that I am competing at my top level each and every time.

4. What are your overall goals now as a player in terms of rankings and tournament results?

No specific goals other than to keep getting better as a player. If I can do that then the results will come.

5. Are you looking to make any technical changes in your game heading into 2016?

Obviously there are some things that I need to improve on, and I have been working hard on those this off-season. Staying healthy, fit and continuing to improve every day are my main focuses.

6. Who would you consider your toughest opponent on Tour and why?

Right now I think that Novak Djokovic has been at another level. I think most people would agree with that.

7. How would you rate the current state of American tennis and which upcoming player on the ATP World Tour impresses you the most?

We have some guys coming up. Jack Sock and Stevie Johnson had a great years last year and the young ones I have heard are talented. I haven’t hit with all of them but I have heard a lot of good things about Reilly Opelka, Francis Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Taylor Fritz. Others as well.

8. Finally, what was your favourite part of the off-season?

Watching football on Sunday afternoons.

Projected 2016 year-end top 10 ATP World Tour Rankings

December 8, 2015

by: Nima Naderi

In a year which was ruled by undisputed world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the prospects of the Serb dominating once again in 2016 appear to be all but certain. With Djokovic winning three Majors, six Masters 1000’s and breaking the $20 million dollar mark in prize money, it’s pretty easy to determine that Novak has a long way to fall if he is to finish anything other than No. 1 at the end of 2016. However, anything can happen in sport and that’s why we’re here.

I’m confident that tennis fans would like to see a more competitive ATP World Tour without the complete strangle hold by one player like Serena Williams has done to the WTA, but that surely isn’t Djokovic or Serena’s fault. Simply put: the rest of the players need to step up.

With that said, who can we look to when trying to determine the remainder of the top 10 in correct order? Will Andy Murray build on his confidence from capturing his first Davis Cup title? Does Roger Federer have an elusive 18th Grand Slam left in him (remember he hasn’t won a major since Wimbledon 2012)? How about Rafa Nadal? We know the Spaniard wants to win the greatest titles the sport has to offer, but does he physically still have the strength and agility to push the likes of Djokovic deep in a Major? Finally, there’s also the crop after the next crop to look at. We have to a certain extent leapfrogged the Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Kei Nishikori group, and looked for new heroes in Nick Kyrgios, Borna Coric and Alexander Zverev to come forward.

All in all, predicting the future is never an easy task but becomes simpler with time as it’s more about forecasting than the actual right answer. To see how I made out for the 2015 Projected Year-End Rankings, click here.

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2016 ATP World Tour Projected Rankings:

1. Novak Djokovic: With 16,585 points to his name as of this moment, it’s going to take a Mount Everest type of fall for Nole not to finish No. 1 in 2016. It’s easy to go out on a limb and suggest that he won’t have as good of year as he did in 2015, but that’s not a long shot considering that he won nearly everything this season. When you look at Djokovic you see another Aussie Open victory for him next month and a great Spring in Indian Wells and Miami. The clay in France still remains his crutch and I don’t believe he’ll win the French Open next year. However, because he’s so clutch post US Open, it will be tough to catch him even if it gets close.

2. Andy Murray: The Brit’s success in 2016 will hinge on his health. Will his back stand up to another 11 months of gruelling action around the world, while he still tries to figure out how to beat Djokovic and Roger Federer on a regular basis? For me, Murray still has three to four good years left in him and his defensive ability alone is ridiculous enough to keep him in the top five for the foreseeable future.

3. Rafa Nadal: The script is set for another Nadal comeback. He struggled with injury; he fought back but wasn’t successful; he still hasn’t given up. Throw all those variables into a determined pot of Spanish stew and it becomes a winning formula. Nadal’s best days are clearly behind him as he inches closer to 30, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have what it takes to win some big titles. You can sense that he really wants to peak at Roland Garros next year and that is exactly what he’ll likely do.

4. Roger Federer: Still proving all the naysayers wrong by putting in quality results into his 30’s, Federer will undoubtedly remain a factor on Tour in ‘16. With his back in good form and his legs as strong as ever, Roger should claim between four to five titles next year but he’ll likely struggle in the latter stages of Majors against his younger rivals. It’s important to add in here that with an Olympic Year on deck, Federer’s summer circuit will surely be compromised in terms of quality. Federer is defending Cincinnati but one thinks that he won’t play Toronto, Rio and Cincy leading into the US Open. Bottom line: We love having Federer around and he’s more than welcome to stay on Tour for as long as he sees fit.

5. Stan Wawrinka: Possessing the biggest forehand, backhand and serve combination in the game, Wawrinka could finish higher in the rankings if not for his lack of consistency. Respectfully admitting that he felt “empty” after winning the French Open in June, Wawrinka still has a few good years left in his diesel engine. I don’t think he defends his RG crown, but I could see him becoming a serious contender at the US Open to round out the year.

6. Kei Nishikori: Kei is a tricky player to figure out. When on, he can beat anyone in the world. However, as history continues to show, he is simply an injury prone player. In today’s game, if you can’t stay healthy throughout the course of the year, the chances of finishing in the top five are next to zero. Still, Nishikori is a heck of player and a great ambassador for the sport.

7. Milos Raonic: Finishing No. 14 in 2015 won’t sit well with Raonic. He simply has too much game to not be ranked in the top 10. If the skyscraper Canadian can stay healthy, he could surely finish in the top eight. That said, he still has holes in his return game and movement that will prevent him from hoisting the titles he’s chasing.

8. Tomas Berdych: Finding his niche on Tour as consistent big hitter has served Tomas well. He’s made changes to his game, team and personal life but he’s still a perennial quarterfinal to semifinal kind of player. There’s really nothing wrong with that lifestyle and I bet there are thousands of players in the world that would sign up to take his place in a second. For my liking, Berdych possesses too shaky of a forehand when it counts to stand alone at the end of a fortnight.

9. David Ferrer: Year after year we claim that Ferrer is in decline and year after year he continues to finish top 10 with multiple titles. His experience and fight are unparalled on Tour but a recent elbow injury will surely slow him down a touch in 2016. Nevertheless, Ferrer still has a good enough game to win a hand full of 250 and 500 level events in the coming 12 months.

10. Bernard Tomic: How about a little bit of “Weekend at Bernies” action in the top 10? Tomic’s eclectic game did pick up steam to round out 2015 by finishing at No. 18. Still only 23, Tomic’s court craft and improved fitness are welcoming signs for the Aussie as he climbs the rankings. If he can stay out of trouble and improve his relatively poor movement, Tomic holds the goods for a top 10 finish.

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Players to watch for in 2016:

Borna Coric: Born to play this game, Coric’s stock continues to rise. At 19 he’s the youngest player in the top 50.

Hyeon Chung: Maybe the best player you’ve never heard of, this 19-year-old finished No. 51 this year. Winning four Challenger titles and soaking in the experience of being a pro player, Chung has more than a few hitches in his game but that’s what makes him affective.

Thanasi Kokkinakis: I still like what I’m seeing from Thanasi in terms of his mindset. He seems to steer away from controversy and just likes to play the game and improve. He’s got a ton of fire power and moves great for a player of his size. It would be surprising to see him not finish in the top 30 in 2016.

Taylor Fritz: While the US market is in desperate need of a young ATP star, Fritz is quietly making his move toward the top 100. Capturing two Challenger titles to end off the season, Fritz’s game reminds me of a hybrid between Raonic, Sam Querrey and Taylor Dent. The trend there is clearly power and Fritz has a lot of that at his disposal.

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Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Tell me your projected top 10 year-end rankings for 2016 below. You can also follow me on Twitter @TennisConnected.

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Nima Naderi is the Editor in Chief of TennisConnected.com. He is also an award winning coach with the PTR. Nima is a PTR Professional rated coach in four categories and has over 18 years of coaching experience.

Cuevas captures Sao Paulo title; Wawrinka overcomes Berdych for Rotterdam crown; Nishikori three peats in Memphis

February 15, 2015

Brasil Open 2015, Sao Paulo, Brazil

Pablo Cuevas captured his third career title on Sunday in Sao Paulo, Brazil, defeating Luca Vanni 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(4). Cuevas, who is currently ranked No. 32, took home 250 ATP World Tour points for his victory. Vanni, who had previously played in two Tour level matches, will likely move up to No. 108 in the world when the latest rankings are released. The Italian is currently ranked No. 149 on the computer.

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ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Stan Wawrinka captured his ninth career title and improved to 14-1 on the year after he fought off a one set to love deficit against Tomas Berdych on Sunday. Defeating the Czech, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Wawrinka has now won tournaments at every level of the sport. The Swiss No. 2 will next see action at the Marseille event in France next week.

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Memphis Open, Memphis, U.S.A

Top seed Kei Nishikori completed a hat-trick of titles in Memphis, U.S.A on Sunday, defeating hard-serving Kevin Anderson 6-4, 6-4. Nishikori, who has enjoyed a tremendous 12 months on Tour, now stands with eight Tour titles to his name. The Japanese super star will next see action at the Acapulco event in Mexico.

Podcast: Looking forward to week two at the 2015 Australian Open

January 25, 2015

Welcome the TennisConnected Podcast for 2015!

After seven days of action Down Under, Parsa Samii and Nima Naderi are back to discuss the meat and potatoes of the event. With Roger Federer gone and Rafa Nadal back in form, will the Spaniard inch closer to the Swiss’ mark of 17 majors by weeks end? How will Novak Djokovic fair in the second week and will Nick Kyrgios continue to live the dream in front of his local supporters? We also discuss the women’s field and if Eugenie Bouchard still has too much respect to take out Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals.

As always, you can alternatively listen to the #1 tennis PodCast via iTunes and never miss another episode. It is very easy and completely free.

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Projected 2015 year-end top 10 ATP World Tour Rankings

December 11, 2014

by: Nima Naderi

Was the 2014 season a fulfilling one for fans of the ATP World Tour? There were plenty of different results throughout the year, highlighted by four different Grand Slam winners. The Masters events featured a tad more in the consistency department with Novak Djokovic winning four times, Roger Federer taking home two titles, and Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga capturing one title each. The diverse winner’s column this year poses an interesting question: Is it good for the sport when there are so many different winners? We’ve been treated to domination by the Big 4 for so long that 2014 provided a little more uncertainty with regards to the contenders and pretenders for titles. If you ask me: the sport is at its best when there for 4-6 guys at the top battling for every single tournament. Rivalries are the key to the best storylines.

However, the fact remains that a bulk of the ranking points are based on the four Majors and nine Masters tournaments. Great success in these events will pretty much guarantee a top 10 finish at the end of year. While six of the current top 10 ranked male players in the world own a slam, the likes of Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori will be eager to build on career seasons during 2015.

Based on my Projected Top 10 Rankings for 2014, you’ll notice that I have a lot of work to do this time around. Federer roared back to the top of the rankings (after I had him finishing outside of the top 10) and powerhouses such as Juan Maritn del Potro and Jerzy Janowicz either sustained injury or lost interest. Nadal was sidelined for large portions of 2014 but still finished at No. 3. Can the Mallorcan regain the top spot in 2015? One has to think that there’s only so many times he can reappear and dazzle us all, while leaving the opposition in the dust.

Where will Andy Murray fit into the top 10 equation when 2015 is over? He still has top 10 talent but hasn’t had a big win in an awfully long time. Ditto goes for Tour workhorse David Ferrer. The compact Spaniard did finish at No. 10 this year but his days as a marquee player must be coming to an end. Finally, can flamboyant Australian Nick Kygrios maximize on his ability and inch closer to a top 10 spot?

Let’s now have a look at how 2015 could unfold.

Projected 2015 year-end top 10 ATP World Tour Rankings:

1. Novak Djokovic: Whether it’s a Djokovic year or not, Nole is right where he needs to be regarding his game and results. I’m feeling a 2011 type of season for him in 2015, but even if he doesn’t soar to those heights again, his game, fitness and mentality should be more than enough to end the year as the top player in the world. Regardless of finishing at the top spot for a fourth time in five years, I still don’t believe that Djokovic wins his first French Open.

2. Rafael Nadal: Pending on his health and how much more he can beat up his body, Rafa is still such an iconic figure that writing him off would be foolish. Turning 29 in May and being on Tour for 15 years, Nadal still has enough passion and power to be a force. Still my favorite to win his 10th title in Paris, Nadal could get on a roll and win two majors next year. This of course all depends on his health and if he can play 11 months without any absence. I would love to see that happen but history is definitely not on his side.

3. Roger Federer: Playing carefree tennis these and being healthy for the most part (see his withdrawal from the WTF Final), Federer still has the goods to play a few big matches during 2015. Blessed with effortless power and movement, Federer’s greatest challenge over the next 12 months will be to put seven matches together in a row throughout a fortnight. We all know that he wants at least one more slam before he retires, but will he get a better chance than he had at Wimbledon or at the US Open this year? It will certainly be tough to recreate those scenarios next year. Federer will always be relevant to the sport and fans alike but he’ll likely stay at 17 Majors until he retires.

4. Kei Nishikori: If fitness is his friend in 2015, Nishikori will reach a top four ranking. Currently ranked at No. 5, Kei is hitting his groundies about as well as anyone out there and as he continues to develop his serve (I’m hopeful) and improve on is volleys (hopeful again), he should have another stellar season. Michael Chang has done wonderful job with Nishikori in 2014 and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue throughout 2015.

5. Milos Raonic: With a shot-gun of a serve, there’s real no ceiling for this young Canadian. Carrying himself with maturity, Raonic is determined to win majors and be No. 1 in the world. I’m not sure about his ability to win a slam in 2015 or to gain the No. 1 ranking, but as my friend Rob Koenig has often said: “That serve is worth a million bucks a year, easy.” Based on that statement alone, Raonic will end 2015 in the top 10 and likely in the top five. For Milos to move up any higher, he’ll have to beef up his second serve points won (currently ranked No. 12) and of course return much better.

6. Stan Wawrinka: The Davis Cup hero will have everything to prove as the defending champion at the Australian Open. Even though Wawrinka played great in the DC final and during the WTF, something tells me that he starts slow in 2015 and loses a lot of points. Remember, he also won in Monte Carlo in a great match over Federer in early Spring. That said, Stan will show glimpses of being the man in 2015 and that could very well happen with a deep run at the French Open. I could also see Wawrinka playing well in New York to end the Slam (Stan’s) season.

7. Andy Murray: I’m not quite sure what to make of Murray these days. He looks likes he’s training hard in Miami, he’s made a lot of changes from by getting engaged, downsizing his coaching staff and picking up a new apparel sponsor, but something tells me that Ivan Lendl knew way more about Murray’s future than we did. Leading the Brit to two Majors and an Olympic Gold medal, Murray was a shell of himself in 2014 and that will likely continue next year. Andy’s had a heck of a good career but winning another slam will be a tall task for him.

8. Tomas Berdych: Dropping to a ranking position that has many interchanging names throughout the year, Berdych will likely continue in the mold that he’s shown in the past two years. Not winning anything of significance for quite sometime, the tall Czech should continue to make between 8-10 quarter and semifinals next year. One can only think what Tomas could’ve accomplished in his career with a better mentality toward the sport.

9. Grigor Dimitrov: A model for the game in more ways than one, Dimitrov still doesn’t have that signature victory to make him a threat for a higher ranking. Great at social media and making the highlight reel, Grigor will have to acquire an overall commitment to the game on a day-to-day basis that has allowed Djokovic, Federer and Nadal to achieve what they have to date. Still, Dimitrov’s a great guy to watch and a player that has tremendous star power.

10. Marin Cilic: Turning heads like crazy by winning the US Open in September, Cilic will have enough points to sustain a top 10 ranking until New York. That buffer will allow him to play his way into the season and feel more comfortable when he’s a marked man in NYC. I like Marin as a person and as a player, but I’m not sure if he has the killer instinct to beat the likes of Djokovic or Nadal when it matters the most. That lack of a killer instinct will likely have him heading close to or out of the top 10 in the next 12 months.

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Notable players to watch for in 2015:

Nick Kygrios: If he doesn’t get burnt out then watch out for this youngster. He has everything necessary to be a top 10 player and time is still on his side. Will the flamboyant Australian flourish Down Under and make a quick strike for a top 10 position? I was reluctant to place him at No. 9 or No. 10 simply because he’s currently ranked No. 52. However, if he comes out blazing in Oz then he could definitely end 2015 as a top 10 player.

David Goffin: A silky smooth game has Goffin as a player to watch for in 2015. Currently ranked No. 22, David has an effortless array of weapons that can trouble the best in the world. If he can stay with the top players mentally then he can certainly be one as well.

Gael Monfils: The best athlete that tennis has ever seen can afford to come and go as he pleases. Monfils has been playing some good ball as of late and I do suspect that he’s realized that turning 30 is not too far away. Still, this is Gael Monfils that we’re talking about and he could very well attempt a forward facing tweener on championship point of a Masters or Slam event. We would love him either way for it.

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Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Tell me your projected top 10 year-end rankings for 2015 below. You can also follow me on Twitter @TennisConnected.

Crazy Eights in London

November 19, 2014

In my latest article for Tennis Canada, I discuss the Crazy Eight in London at the O2 Arena.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

” The absence of Rafa Nadal in London ultimately means that the player finishing in ninth position this year would get into the draw. Never one to shy away from his aspirations as being the best ranked player in the world, Milos Raonic will make his first trip to the O2 Arena this year, via a strong finish at the Paris Masters. Defeating Federer for the first-time in a master-class serving performance, Raonic will be eager to ride his monster delivery and great inside-out forehand as deep into the tourney as possible. Following Eugenie Bouchard into the final event of the season on his respective Tour, 2014 has been a great year for Canadian tennis.”

The full article can be read here.

Show some love for the WTA Finals

October 20, 2014

In my latest article for TennisCanada.com, I discuss this weeks WTA Finals from Singapore and how the top eight ladies look. Here’s an excerpt from the article right here:

“Notable obstacles in Serena’s way will be reigning French Open winner Sharapova and current Wimbledon champ Kvitova. Although Sharapova has a terrible head-to-head against Serena throughout their career meetings, it’s exactly this type of format that Shazza can work her way into the event and be ready for the brute force that the American possesses. As for Kvitova, she’s possibly the greatest threat to the top seed, considering that she’s dynamite on fast courts and has also made the finals or better of two events post US Open. For me, Kvitova is the second favourite to take the title after Serena.”

The full article can be found here.


When the Slam season settles, there’s still plenty on the line

September 22, 2014

In my latest article for Tennis Canada, I discuss what’s left to play for after the slam season is over. For the likes of Nole, Serena, Federer, Rafa, Marin, Milos and Eugenie, there’s still plenty on the line.

Here’s a excerpt from the article:

” Newly crowned US Open winner Marin Cilic will also have something to say about how 2014 rounds out. The towering Croat stunned everyone in the draw with his comprehensive victory in NYC. Winning his last three matches in straight sets to claim his maiden slam victory, Cilic became the fifth major winner currently placed in the top 10. For Marin, this fall is a time for him to prove that he’s going to be a force at the top of the game for years to come.”

To read the full article, click here.

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