Exclusive Interview: Steve Johnson feels more confident heading into his second ATP final

Steve Johnson will face Pablo Cuevas in the final of the Aegon Open after a straight sets win over Andreas Seppi 6-4, 6-4 and the American feels more confident heading into the match compared to when preparing for his maiden final.

The sixth seed is very much looking forward to tomorrow’s match and was delighted with his semifinal win. Johnson said, “I’m very happy to reach my second final and first on grass. I’m glad to put some momentum on the board this grass court swing and happy to be in the final.”

Thoughts after playing two matches in one day

After seeing off Kevin Anderson ealier on in the day in a disrupted match due to darkness, the sixth seed discussed what pleased him most about his performances. “Keeping my composure and coming back from the darkness delay last night and the rain delay today up a set”, he said. “You never know how those are going to turn out. Fortunately, I came out with good starts in both and was able to get back in the swing of things.”

In between his two matches the sixth seed took things easy as he waited in the players lounge. “I just sat here and relaxed, had some lunch, and got away from the tennis for a little bit. When it was time to get back going after Pablo (Cuevas) won the second set, then it was time to start thinking about the next match and go out there and go through my routines.”

Johnson reached a career high of number 29 in the Emirates ATP Rankings back in February. Photo: Getty
Johnson reached a career high of number 29 in the Emirates ATP Rankings back in February. Photo: Getty

Nottingham is a special place for the American

The American has fond memories of Nottingham and looks forward to coming back year upon year. “This is a site that I have pretty fond memories of. Back in 2013, I won the Challenger here to get into the top 100 and get a wildcard into Wimbledon all at the same time. It’s one of those things that I’ll never forget. I remember that match pretty clearly and to make my first grass final is great. It’s nothing more than I could have asked for”, the world number 38 said.

Comparing his first ATP final to now

Johnson reached the final in Vienna last year, narrowly losing out to David Ferrer, who won 4-6, 6-4, 7-5. The American feels more confident as he prepares for the final against Cuevas. “It’s going to be my second final, so I’m going to feel more comfortable. I’m definitely feeling confident but Pablo’s played an outstanding tournament as well so it’s hopefully going to be a great match and I’m going to be a bit more comfortable in my second final than I was in my first.”

Exclusive Interview: Andreas Seppi delighted to reach fourth Aegon Open semifinal

Andreas Seppi booked his place in the semifinals for a fourth time at the Aegon Open with victory over the unseeded Dudi Sela 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in Nottingham on Thursday.

Post-match reflections

The Italian, seeded seven this week, had a difficult start to his match, only winning 46 percent of points behind the second serve. “It wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning, it was difficult to find a rhythm and I made a lot of mistakes”, he said. Seppi responded in the next two sets and was very pleased to get the win. “I think I improved as the match went on and we had some good rallies in the last few games, lots of long rallies and it was good to win most of them and it was a great win for me.”

Thoughts on the courts and the crowds

The courts have been a big talking point at the Nottingham Tennis Centre this week, but the Italian was generally happy with the surface. “It’s different from the outside courts I have to say, it’s much worse on the baseline, with a lot of clay, maybe that’s why I was struggling a little bit at the beginning. But inside the court, there were good bounces so I can’t complain.”

Seppi won the Aegon Open in 2011 in Eastbourne. Photo: Getty
Seppi won the Aegon Open in 2011 in Eastbourne. Photo: Getty

The British crowds have been good all week and the seventh seed was full of praise for them. He said, “there was a lot of support out there, as there has been throughout the week and hopefully it will be as full tomorrow.” Seppi will play a seeded opponent for the first time in his semifinal match, against either Kevin Anderson or Steve Johnson. “It will be a difficult match, both players are serving very well, they like playing on faster services, I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, I can recover well and be ready for tomorrow.”

2016 so far

It has not been the easiest of seasons for the Italian after struggling with injury, but he did clinch his 300th career win after defeating David Ferrer for the first time in 10 tries in the first round of Halle. “I didn’t play so many matches before the clay court season, I was injured for a month but I recovered well, so to play as many matches as possible is good for me, with three wins here it’s a real positive. I’ve already played two weeks on grass and had some good wins in Halle so I’m not surprised that I’m doing so well here. I enjoy playing on this surface and when I’m feeling good I can play some good tennis on grass.”

Exclusive Interview: Kevin Anderson’s thoughts on his third round win and the courts in Nottingham

Kevin Anderson advanced to the quarterfinals of the Aegon Open after a straight sets win over Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 7-6(6). The South African was playing the former top ten player for the fourth time and was happy to get off the court with a quick victory as the sun was setting in Nottingham.

Post-match thoughts

Despite the tricky conditions towards the end of the match, the 30-year-old was very happy to get through. “I started off really well, took care of my serves and played a great game to break and I came out fighting. Things settled down after that and there were no more breaks for the rest of the match”, he said.

Verdasco is a left handed player, but Anderson felt he dealt well with adapting to his game style, “it’s always an adjustment, but you try and prepare by warming up with a leftie and I was fortunate enough to do that today. The ball spins a little differently, but once you get used to it after a couple of games the match goes on as normal.”

Anderson's coach, Neville Godwin, watches on. Photo: Joshua Coase
Anderson’s coach, Neville Godwin, watches on. Photo: Joshua Coase

Playing on an outside court at the Nottingham Tennis Centre

As the players reached the end of the second set the sun began to set over Court 4, where the players match had been moved to. Anderson’s coach, Neville Godwin, criticized the court, saying that it was facing the wrong direction in terms of the placement of the sun and that it was not an ATP standard court, but the South African had no quarrels with the playing surface.

“The court was good, there was a couple of bad bounces on the baseline in the warm-up, but obviously you’re always going to get that on any grass court, especially as the wear and tear goes on, but I actually thought the baseline was almost in better shape than the one in Centre Court, but it’s probably seen a few less matches”, he said.

 “The conditions got very tough towards the end on one side with the sun and at times it was absolutely impossible to see anything. There were a few little distractions, with people walking behind the courts, it’s a little bit different, but you just have to deal with it as it’s the same for both of us. The sun was far more distracting than anything else going on.”

Playing Johnson in the quarterfinals

Anderson will play the American Steve Johnson in the next round, with the South African leading their head to head 4-2. “I’ve played Steve a few times, he’s a very athletic player and a very good server, he controls the court with his forehand. So it’s just about taking care of what I need to do on my side of the court. I was very happy with today’s match, so it’s just about recovering and getting ready to do the same thing tomorrow.”

Exclusive Interview: Kevin Anderson – “I feel like I’ve turned a corner after a tricky start to the year”

Kevin Anderson is the top seed this week at the Aegon Open in Nottingham and he got his campaign up and running with a three sets win over Ivan Dodig 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3 to progress to the third round.

Reflections on his second round win

Speaking exclusively to Joshua Coase for VAVEL USA, the world number 24 said that he was delighted to progress. “It was great to get through today, it was a very close match, with not too many chances. I was able to stay patient and in the moment, create my opportunity and take it towards the end. I think that you have to have the right motivation, especially on the grass to create those chances and you have to, most importantly take care of your serves, which I thought I did very well today. Even though I lost the second set, I reset very quickly in the third.”

There was a difficult moment on court for the South African at two games all in the final set as the top seed saw a 40-0 advantage slip back to deuce when serving, causing him to become very animated, showing signs of frustration. “On the grass you can’t really afford to slip up, if you go down a break there then it’s not easy to break serve. Obviously, when I was at deuce you don’t want to be slipping up and giving your opponent a sniff at a break”, he said.

There were plenty of positives to take from the match today for the former top 10 player as he looked to build some momentum on the grass. Anderson said, “I felt that when it was close on my serve I pulled out some big serves and played some good points. Not facing a break point the whole match is definitely a good sign.

“It was very important to win today, for a couple of reasons, one being that I want to do well here as this is a really good tournament and a good opportunity for me. And secondly, with Wimbledon coming up next week it’s really important to get on the grass and get as much practice in as possible.”

Anderson came through a tough test in his first appearance in Nottingham since 2013. Photo: Getty
Anderson came through a tough test in his first appearance in Nottingham since 2013. Photo: Getty

Thoughts on his upcoming match

Anderson faces Fernando Verdasco in the third round at the Nottingham Tennis Centre, with the Spaniard leading their head to head 2-1. The South African believes that the most important thing for him heading into the match is his mind-set. “Focusing on what I do well with my game is the attitude I take into every match. There are some fine adjustments that I make, but I have the game style where I can go out and play very similarly regardless of who I’m playing. Even though I’ve got a very different opponent from the player I played today (Dodig), what I will be trying to implement (against Verdasco) should be very similar”, he said.

An injury plagued year so far for the 30-year-old

It has been a very difficult year for the South African so far, after the highs of 2015 with terrific performances at Queen’s and Wimbledon, before reaching his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the US Open and breaking into the world’s top 10, Anderson has struggled with injuries in 2016.

The 30-year-old has been hampered by left knee and right elbow injuries this season, as a result, he was faced with a 10-week absence from the tour, retiring from two matches and withdrawing from seven tournaments. The world number 24 made his return at the ATP Masters 1000 in Madrid and is looking to rebuild after claiming his fourth victory of the year on the ATP Tour over Dodig here in Nottingham.

Anderson is not looking back on last year’s achievements too much, as the injury has caused a shift in his perspective of his career. He is very focused on his progress at the Aegon Open and for what lies ahead at Wimbledon.

The South African said, “Obviously I had a great run at Queen’s and made the final there and had a good run in Wimbledon, pushing Novak all the way to five sets, but things change, all I can do is deal with what is going on right now and I know that where I am now is much better than where I was even just a month ago. I feel like I’ve turned a corner after a tricky start to the year for me, so I’m just really focused on the present and each day I’m just pushing myself to get better.”

Exclusive Interview: Kyle Edmund talks about his first round win and target ranking for the end of the year

Kyle Edmund has had a terrific year so far as the 21-year-old Brit continues his rise up the rankings. After a run to the quarterfinals at the Queen’s Club last week, where he lost in three sets to Andy Murray, the British number three has risen to a career high of 68 and backed up his recent performances on the grass with a straight sets win over Lukas Rosol yesterday at the Aegon Open in Nottingham.

Reflecting on the match, Edmund was very pleased with his performance, “I played a pretty good, solid match, I’m feeling very good about my game”, he said. Heading into the match Rosol was always going to be a difficult task, but the Brit managed to nullify his big weapons. “He is a very dangerous player and you never know what to expect. The serve is the strongest part of his game, so it was tough to break.

“At the start of the match I was quite inconsistent with my returns, I was getting my looks but not putting enough pressure on. Then I got into it more and started to pick his serves better and I did well to break him last game of the first set. After getting the break at 2-1 (second set) I played some solid service games thereafter.”

Edmund defeated Rosol 6-4, 6-3 at the Aegon Open. Photo: Getty
Edmund defeated Rosol 6-4, 6-3 at the Aegon Open. Photo: Getty

Speaking exclusively to VAVEL USA, Edmund looked ahead to his second round match against the fourth seed Alexandr Dolgopolov. The Brit was fully aware that it would be a difficult match, “I lost to him first round at Wimbledon last year, he’s a tricky player, not someone who you play regularly in terms of his shot-making, he mixes it up well and he slices a lot. I feel I’m playing well and I’m confident, so hopefully I can take that into the match.

“First of all, I’ll look to play my game and then that will give be the best possible chance of winning and then once I feel confident about working at his game, then that is when you get inroads. You just respect your opponent, but play your game first.”

After reaching a career high of 68 in the Emirates ATP Rankings this week, Edmund’s aim is to climb as high possible before the end of the year. The British number three said, “reaching the top 50 is something I thought about at the start of the year, but if I achieve that it doesn’t mean that I’ll stop there. If I don’t achieve it, that doesn’t mean I’ve failed, if I still feel I’ve improved then that’s a positive.”

Edmund is getting used to playing the top players week in week out now but is delighted to be playing those matches as they are the matches which he plays the game for, to allow him to square off against the very best. “The more I play at this level the more confident I’m getting”.

You can follow Edmund’s progress at the Aegon Open this week and during the Wimbledon fortnight on VAVEL.com.

Exclusive Interview: ATP NextGen Star Taylor Fritz ready to make his Wimbledon main draw debut

It has been quite the last 12 months for young American rising star Taylor Fritz. The 18-year-old is the youngest player in the top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, currently ranked at a career high of world number 6-3, the American was ranked at just 757 in the world this time last year. During this time in his staggering rise he has won ATP Challenger titles in Happy Valley, Sacramento and Fairfield, made his first main draw appearance at Grand Slams in the Australian Open and Roland Garros and reached the final of the ATP event in Memphis.

“I never thought I’d be able to move up to 63 in the world”

Reflecting on his meteoric rise, Fritz has found the experience very surreal. “Last year I just met so many people that I thought I would never be around; it has been amazing to have the experience of meeting my tennis idols. It’s crazy the stuff I’m getting to do.

“I knew when I was 700 in the world, it was due to the fact that I wasn’t playing a lot of professional tennis, I was focusing on my junior career. But I never thought I’d be able to move up to 63 in the world. When I started pros my goal was to make it to slam qualifiers at the end of the year, so that’s top 200 in the world. I’ve definitely done a lot better than I thought would be possible.”

Taylor Fritz was speaking to VAVEL USA's Joshua Coase. Photo: LTA
Taylor Fritz was speaking to VAVEL USA’s Joshua Coase. Photo: LTA

Facing Federer in Stuttgart

Fritz’s performances on the grass courts this season have brought him mixed success. The American began with a win over Fabrice Martin in the first round of Stuttgart, as he recovered from match point down to prevail 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-1. The 18-year-old then had the opportunity to take on Roger Federer in the second round and produced a highly commendable performance, taking a set off the 17-time Grand Slam champion, with the Swiss eventually prevailing 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

The world number 63 relished the experience and opportunity on the big stage against one of his idols. “It was really awesome, he was always the player who was just dominating everyone when I was growing up as a little kid, so it’s actually crazy to step on the court and actually be playing him and to have a close match with him as well was crazy because when I grew up, he was the best.”

Looking ahead to making his debut at Wimbledon

The American then fell to world number 102 Yuichi Sugita in the first round of Halle and recently lost to Adrian Mannarino in the first round of Nottingham, but is still feeling confident about his grass court game as he prepares to make his maiden appearance in the main draw at Wimbledon.

“Yeah I’m really excited to go there for the first time as a pro, having been there as a junior twice and played well there I’m really excited,” he said. “I feel like I’m a pretty good grass court player, I’m definitely better on grass courts than clay courts, I think it’s a surface I can do well on, so you know will see. I just want to do as well as I can. I need to see the draw first but I’m going to compete 100 percent and play good tennis, I mean who knows, I’ll be satisfied as long as I’ve played and competed well.”

Taylor Fritz was speaking to VAVEL USA's Joshua Coase. Photo: LTA
Taylor Fritz was speaking to VAVEL USA’s Joshua Coase. Photo: LTA

Memphis Open final – The highlight of Fritz’s career so far

Fritz not only has the main draw of Wimbledon to look forward to, but also the chance to make his maiden appearance in the main draw at his home slam, the US Open. The 18-year-old won the US Open Junior Championships last year, which was a career highlight, but making the final at the Memphis Open is the biggest achievement so far in his eyes. “Making the final in Memphis was a real highlight, it would be hard to exclude that as being my best achievement so far.”

The world number 63 reached that particular final in what was just his third tour-level event. At  just 18 years and 109 days old, he became the youngest ATP finalist since Kei Nishikori won Delray Beach back in 2008 at 18 years and 50 days old. It was Nishikori who Fritz faced in the Memphis final, with the Japanese player winning 6-4, 6-4. Fritz was also the youngest American ATP finalist since Michael Chang won Wembley in 1989.

For Fritz the future looks bright, it appears that the only way is up for the 18-year-old as the limelight will only continue to grow and surround America’s next big tennis star.