Yet another tournament in Umag is behind us and the winner’s trophy was deservedly lifted by Andrey Rublev. In the final match, he outplayed Paolo Lorenzi, whose tactics surprised me and it wasn’t a good surprise. I’m not sure what he wanted to do with all those high balls. True, unlike in the previous matches, this time he had a bandaged leg, but I hadn’t noticed that it hindered his movement in any way.
But enough about the Italian, we should focus on the winner. Andrey Rublev deserves to be talked about as he is a young player whose name will come up a lot in the years to come. He is only 19 and is on his way to become a true star of the international tennis.
He plays excellently and has great shots even though I still think he is a bit wild. But that’s something that can easily be corrected. In time, he’ll be more tactical rather than having a single goal: to hit a ball as strong as he can, and then watch what happens.
There’s plenty of room for improvement and game expansion, for instance, coming to the net more often and to volley, as he has the height to do it.
As of today, thanks to winning the Plava Laguna Croatia Open Umag, he is already the 49th player in the world. For someone who is just 19 years old, that’s an excellent ranking. It also shows that he is in good hands and that he has people who know what they are doing.
If I were to compare him to former tennis player, I’d say there’s a bit of Marat Safin in him. Only, Marat had a slightly better hand, but for now it’s too early to make general judgments on how far Rublev will go. As things stand now, he could go to the Top 10, but it doesn’t always go so smoothly in tennis.
Rublev’s win is good for the tournament as well. There will be quite some talk about it in the world of tennis, and people will hear about this. It’s the right prize for the seven days behind us, because the tournament looked great; I never saw so many people before, attendance was phenomenal on all courts. But behind the project is a well-established machinery that truly offers more than the tournament. So there is no doubt when I say that Umag is the most popular destination in the ATP calendar among level 250 tournaments.
Regardless of his loss, Ivan Dodig played heroically in the semifinal against Andrey Rublev. There’s nothing to criticize Dodo for. He gave his best but, at this point, it seems all this has been a little too much for him. I did hope that the Russian kid would be overwhelmed by the semifinal and that his arm would falter a bit. However, he played a fantastic match, like it was all routine for him. Not once did he look scared out there. On the contrary, he played as he had in all the previous matches.
His shots are good and strong, and can take his opponents out of the court. Dodig is a master at defense, but Rublev continued to win points, and without him making a mistake, it was difficult to fight him. Dodo even tried using his best weapon, coming to the net, but even then the Russian was precise and advanced to the final deservedly.
He now has a chance to become the second Russian player to win in Umag as Nikolay Davydenko celebrated here in 2009. Still, I feel today’s match is going to be rather tricky. Paolo Lorenzi is a typical experienced clay player who knows how to slow down the opponent, and if he manages to do that to the inexperienced Rublev, then the Russian will be in big trouble. But we’ll see. We shouldn’t try and be smart before the match has even begun as we have seen enough surprises here already. We should simply enjoy the final.
Just as we enjoyed the doubles final. It’s a real pity the Draganja brothers failed to claim that “bucket”. The way that they had been playing this past week, they deserved a bit of luck in the end. Marin is the more experienced of the two. He’s had a few good results on the Tour and was ranked 20th. He has been leading their brotherly team pretty well. As a junior he was even good in the singles competition. He was a promising young player but then he ended up playing doubles. And even in the doubles competition he is one of our best players. That injury of his sidelined him for six months and cost him his partner Henri Kontinen, the Finn who this year won the Australian Open, played in the Wimbledon semifinal and won the ATP Finals in London with John Peers. Had it not been for the injury, it could have been Marin by his side.
But, hey, if that was what it took for the brothers to team up then we shouldn’t feel sorry about it. Especially if they continue playing as well as here in Umag.
Throughout this whole week I have been praising Ivan Dodig. The way he has been playing, it’s never too much. Dodo has turned out to be a huge surprise as before the tournament, nobody thought he would go this far. His back was always a problem and he hadn’t been in many singles matches. When he did play them, he rarely won. Then he came to Umag and went all the way to the semifinal.
Why is he winning now and didn’t before? Well, that’s the beauty of tennis: you never know what the next day will bring. One day you play brilliantly, the next everything is just awful. Luckily, in Dodig’s case, this positive energy of his is still going strong and, hopefully, will last for two more matches.
The main thing is that Dodig is playing without a worry in his mind. There is no pressure or need to prove himself. He is simply enjoying his tennis and when it’s like that, then the arm obeys you.
Goffin didn’t play the way it was expected of him. On the contrary, he struggled even in his first match against the Hungarian Balazs. Obviously, this break he took after suffering an injury at Roland Garros has cost him a lot. He needs more matches to get in the rhythm. Still, that doesn’t undermine Dodig’s success. I mean, you still have to beat Goffin, regardless of his form.
Today, we are going to have an Italian semifinal with Alessandro Giannessi and Paolo Lorenzi, and a completely unexpected and unusual semifinal starring a guy who got an invitation and a lucky loser. Andrey Rublev is riding a winning wave and it’s taking him places nobody could even imagine. But the boy is good, even though he is yet to hone his tactical skills. For now he only has one playing style. And that’s to hit the ball as hard as he can and then see how far that can get him. That’s his plan A. There is no plan B.
This is where Dodig’s chance lies. He is wiser and more experienced, and if he mixes it up tactically, he has a decent shot at winning. Rublev is still wild in certain situations, hits too hard and hits even when it’s not necessary. So far, he has gotten away with it but today would be a good day for all that to stop.
Bravo for the Draganja brothers! They have impressed me. It’s their first time in an ATP tournament and already they have reached the final. Thanks to those two being in the final, we now have Croatian candidates in both competitions. It can’t get any better than this.
I was really surprised to see Gaël Monfils lose. I definitely didn’t expect him to go out this early. On the contrary, I thought that after two semifinals here in Umag he had finally matured enough to go all the way this year. But he played poorly, there’s nothing much to add here. OK, it also had something to do with the fact that Dutra Silva played well, but if Monfils had brought his A game, there is no way the Brazilian would have beaten him.
It’s too bad he is out. He is one of the most attractive players on the Tour nowadays and it would sure be fun to watch him in a few more matches. It is what it is, though. We’ve lost a star but the tournament is still strong.
We are now left with rooting for our boy Dodo. We want to have a Croatian player in the tournament for as long as possible, so that he can make up to us for losing Monfils.
We also have Fabio Fognini who, not surprisingly, won his match even though he had somewhat unexpectedly lost a set. Still, it was his first match on clay after nearly two months and he probably needs a little time to warm up his engine.
He won’t have too much time though as today he is to face Andrey Rublev, who used his second chance and replaced our Borna Ćorić in a fantastic way. On Monday, he was already packed and ready to leave, and now he is still in the tournament and even has a chance to win it.
I’ve said it before, Rublev is one of those solid, up-and-coming Russians who might stir things up in the near future. I don’t know if they will reach the heights of Marat Safin or Yevgeny Kafelnikov but we should keep an eye on them to see how they progress. For instance, Rublev did a great thing this year and moved to Spain, where he currently trains. The same goes for Karen Khachanov, another young Russian player. You can see both of them have improved a lot. Rublev is a little rough around the edges – he hits the ball, and if it goes in, great, if not... So far, he has been doing well in the tournament but, looking at the big picture, once he becomes more stable and refined, once he finds his balance, he just might be good.
The day ended with a doubles match: Dodig and Škugor played against the Draganja brothers. It’s a pity they played against each other but at least we knew that we would have Croatians in the semifinal.
For me, Ivan Dodig’s win was absolutely the biggest thing that happened on Wednesday. With each passing day, Dodo is playing better and better. I’ve talked to him, he is relaxed and feels no pressure whatsoever. And when he’s like that, then he wins even those points he normally wouldn’t. I’m happy for him. It’s been a long time since he has managed to win two consecutive singles matches on the Tour, and I’m even happier that he’s done it here, at our tournament.
It’s great to watch him: he plays an attractive tennis, he is aggressive, comes to the net and moves well. His advancement to the quarterfinal has been well earned. He even saved a match point, even though Cecchinato lent him a helping hand with that unbelievable miss near the end of the tie-break. When you miss something like that, it’s not surprising if you can’t make anything afterwards. But we won’t complain too much as the most important thing now is that we have a Croat in the tournament. In a way, Dodig saved the tournament as we no longer have Borna here and it is always a good thing when the home crowd has someone they can root for.
Dodig will be facing Goffin now. Who’s the favorite? It’s hard not to say the Belgian is. I mean, he is a Top 15 player and Ivan is currently ranked 412th in the world. True, Goffin hasn’t done anything spectacular in his match against Attila Balazs, which is why it was more difficult for him to win it than anyone expected. David is on his way back after an injury and hasn’t played since Roland Garros. He even missed Wimbledon and is still searching for his form. He hasn’t played much but, if we are to look at it objectively, he still has a bigger chance of reaching the semifinal. Still, Dodig is a known fighter and with a fight or two and the home crowd behind him, he could make another step forward, why not?
The day ended with the exhibition match. It was fun, relaxing and entertaining. Besides, we can no longer play seriously because of our age. The only thing we need to do now is stay relatively fit so that if we try something, we can accomplish it without making fools of ourselves.
We missed Monfils as he would have upped the game a bit but we had to be flexible because of his match today. Kaja got scared a bit, she was overwhelmed, but Redfoo ruled, he was so psyched up for this match.
Before the competition day even started, we were shocked by the news that Borna Ćorić could not play. It is a huge loss for the tournament as Borna has been tied to Umag for the past few years and has been accepted well by all of us here. It is also a huge loss for him, as no player likes to cancel matches, especially not because of an injury.
This thing with his stiff neck can be tricky and it’s impossible to play like that. I had it a few times, and as I used to be a magnet for poor timing, once I got it just before the final in Miami in 1996.
I was supposed to play in the final against Andre Agassi; before that, I had already beaten Pete Sampras and Michael Chang, both Top 5 players at the time, but then I woke up on the morning of the final and I couldn’t move my head. I went to various treatments the entire day; they broke me to make me fit for the match. I went out onto the court and it wasn’t working. I had to withdraw from the match after three games. What I’m trying to say is, I know how Borna feels and there really wasn’t anything else to be done.
He was then replaced by Rublev. He went back in as the lucky loser and immediately grabbed his chance. I tip my hat to him for his match against Berlocq. I can tell you that that Russian kid looks really good. The Russians in general have a solid base of young, up-and-coming players, including Rublev, Khachanov and Medvedev. This year, Rublev passed through the qualifiers in all three Grand Slams, and that’s not a small feat – it’s three different surfaces and three matches each time, and all the players are doing their best to win.
We have lost Borna but have otherwise had a great day as far as Croatian players are concerned. Two of our three doubles went through, and I’m especially glad that Franko Škugor won. He wasn’t very lucky in his last two matches and I would like to see that rectified in some way. He has an excellent doubles player by his side, Ivan Dodig, and the two of them are a decent team that could very well go all the way.
There is another reason why the doubles competition is interesting. Daniel Nestor is playing this year in Umag, and that’s a guy who has had an unbelievable run since 1994: he has been winning at least one title a year on the ATP Tour. This year, he still hasn’t won one and it would be neat to see him win it here in Umag, thus continuing that amazing run.
The first day is behind us and we had reasons to be both happy and a little sad. Ivan Dodig played a rather solid match against Marius Copil. I was glad to see the stands were filled well already on the first day of the main part of the tournament. It was worth coming and watching Dodig’s match for the tennis that he had shown us.
Our Dodo always plays with heart. He is a great fighter and even though lately he hadn’t had much success on the tour in his singles matches, his victory was no surprise to me. The reason for that is the fact that his game simply doesn’t suit Copil. The Romanian likes to come to the net and Dodig used his return experience from the doubles competition rather well in this match and defended quite well against Copil.
As much as I was happy for Ivan, I was also sad for Franko Škugor. He is a great guy who deserved to go through but it seems it just wasn’t meant to be. This is just not his time, as in Wimbledon he played the doubles semifinal with Nikola Mektić, and that match could have also gone their way but did not. Here, he had everything to win the match, including four match points, but in the end it just wasn’t enough. Too bad. It’s a pity he didn’t go through to the main draw, for the tournament’s and his own sake. Still, I hope he will be able to make up for it in the doubles competition with Dodig. They are both fantastic doubles players. They have played together before, they know each other well, and it could be a good combination for this tournament.
The fact that Gilles Simon lost wasn’t really a surprise for me. I’d said before that this was his worst season. He keeps failing somehow. We had hoped he would be able to turn things around once he was in Umag but he didn’t. He has lost his confidence. He is no longer that “boring” Simon. Not boring in the sense that he is boring to watch but that he bores his opponents by being able to return everything, by fighting constantly and by being tough to break.
What’s on the schedule for today? Well, all sorts of things. I would definitely like to single out the silly Frenchman Benoit Paire, as he will be an interesting one to watch for the spectators. Actually, it will be really hard to choose between so many matches as something will be going on all the courts. And that’s yet another proof of how strong Umag is this year. We can only be proud and happy about it.
Everyone cried on Sunday, Marin and Roger alike. I have been through what they have been through, I have seen both sides of the coin, and I know how they’re feeling. As far as Marin is concerned, losing a Grand Slam final isn’t easy, and losing a Wimbledon final is as hard as it gets. I know that first hand. The plate that they give you is nice and all but there’s nothing I’d like better than to hurl it into…
Anyway, I’m glad my predictions came through; even before the full draw for the tournament was announced everyone had been wondering why I was talking nonsense again and saying Marin was Wimbledon’s third favorite, right behind Federer and Nadal. The British were in shock: “Where’s our Andy in all of that?” And then, when Rafa dropped out, I immediately said Čilić and Federer were going to play in the final.
It started rather well for Marin, he had 2:1 and a break point on his second service game. Had he gone up to 3:1, then we might have seen something different. Unfortunately, it was 2:2, and immediately afterwards Roger broke his serve. After that, it was a one-way street. Then those blisters surfaced on Čilić’s foot – truly a shame. Had everything been normal, it would have definitely been a far more unpredictable final. But right now, Roger is just too strong…
Still, this has been a fantastic feat for Marin; he used his draw to the maximum and is presently playing with a constant that was lacking earlier. He has proven to be a more mature player than before, playing rather aggressively, and if he continues to play like that, he could enter the top 4 or the top 3 in the world.
Wimbledon excitements are over, new ones await us in Umag. We have a great lineup and a top-quality tournament, perhaps the strongest ever. Goffin, Monfils, Fognini, Simon... My compliments to Lawrence and his team for everything they have done. As far as Croatian players are concerned, Borna is here once again, and Dodig has gotten in on invitation, which could lift some pressure off Borna as he won’t be the only homegrown player on the tournament. It will definitely be interesting and tennis fans will have a lot to see and enjoy, including the event on Wednesday. Two Wimbledon champions will be here, and one of them is the best volley player in the world, alongside Patrick Rafter. All those young people who would like to learn how to volley will now have an opportunity to watch Pat Cash in action. The way he hits his volleys, it’s a true art.