In what should have been the opening week of Wimbledon, Stats Perform News revisits an interview with analyst Craig O'Shannessy.

 

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Stats Perform News prior to the Australian Open in January. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

Struff – with mastermind O'Shannessy in his box – threatened to derail Djokovic's quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title before the defending champion fought hard to survive in the opening round in Melbourne, where he eventually hoisted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

World number 34 Struff also shared his thoughts on AI and numbers in an interview with Stats Perform News in April.

"Yes of course," Struff said when asked if AI will become more important in tennis. "I don't know exactly what the other players are doing on that area. You are always trying to hide these things. Nobody wants to talk about what he is doing, how his fitness training looks like and such things.

"Everybody is trying to hide himself, so the opponents don't see if certain things are working out or not. This is to prevent the other guys from copying certain things and actually catching up. But this is definitely going to come."

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

Serena Williams remains tantalisingly close to Margaret Court's all-time grand slam record of 24 major victories.

The American, still going strong at the age of 38, has lost her last four grand slam finals against Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu.

Wimbledon is a special event for Williams, who has reached the final on 11 occasions, including those recent losses to Kerber and Halep.

The tournament therefore represents one of the best chances for the seven-time champion to draw level with Court's historic mark.

However, the event in 2020 was cancelled – the first time that has happened since World War II - due to the coronavirus pandemic, complicating Williams' record pursuit.

Ahead of what would have been the start of Wimbledon next week, Stats Perform News debated whether Williams can already be considered the greatest player in women's tennis history.


Graf is the greatest

By Joe Wright

Serena is a modern powerhouse, her serve and shot-making unrivalled at its best; Martina Navratilova's serve-and-volley skills delivered 59 majors across singles and doubles from 1981 to 1990; Margaret Court still tops the tables for grand slam singles titles, winning 24 between 1960 and 1973, spanning the shift to the Open era.

The greatest, then, would be a player who could feasibly have thrived in any of those eras. The greatest, then, is Steffi Graf.

The German ruled women's tennis for more than a decade after winning the 1987 French Open. A year after that triumph in Paris, she became the first to win tennis' 'Golden Slam' - all four major singles titles and Olympic gold in the same year. She was 18.

Between 1987 and 1996, she won 22 grand slam singles titles spread neatly across the four events: four in Australia, six in France, seven at Wimbledon and five in the United States. She held the number one ranking for 377 weeks, a record never beaten in the women's or men's game.

Her 107 tour titles puts her behind only Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time list and only she and Court have won three majors in a single calendar year five times.

'Fraulein Forehand' could overpower opponents from the baseline, unbalance them with a wicked sliced backhand and demoralise them with ferocious serves and precision volleys.

She combined power and elegance in such a way that she could dominate on every surface. She would have been a match for Court in the 60s, she beat Navratilova in four of six slam finals and, had she not retired at just 30 in 1999, she'd have known how to handle a young Serena.

In that same year, Billie Jean King proclaimed: "Steffi is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time." That should be proof enough.

 

Serena has dominated in toughest era

By Chris Myson

On and off the court, Serena has had a monumental impact in taking women’s tennis to incredible heights.

Twenty-one years after her first grand slam title at the 1999 US Open, she remains a fierce contender for the sport's biggest accolades, having changed the game with her unrivalled talent, athleticism and longevity.

Seven Wimbledon titles, six US Open crowns and three French Open wins are on her record.

Throw in another seven Australian Open victories, including her remarkable 2017 triumph while pregnant with her daughter, and you have a resume that may never be topped.

Thirty-three major finals in a 20-year span is a statistic made all the more remarkable when you factor in she missed 15 slams over that period.

Serena held all four grand slams when she won in Australia in 2003, while 11 years later she was celebrating a three-peat at Flushing Meadows by beating close friend Caroline Wozniacki.

Not that it is needed to bolster her claim, but Serena has also won 14 women's doubles majors with her sister Venus, having never lost a grand slam final in that format.

She has two mixed doubles crowns as well, taking her total major haul to 39.

Most significantly, these incredible feats have taken place in the modern era, where the level of competition has never been so strong and so deep, due to the global growth of tennis.

Top-tier rivals are more plentiful than in the eras of Graf, Navratilova and Court, while they are stronger, fitter, better equipped and more prepared than ever before.

Serena’s impact and staggering commercial success off the court has paved the way for future generations like Osaka to thrive.

But it is her play on it that means her place as the greatest women's player of all time is secure, even if the cancellation of Wimbledon has made her path to the elusive 24th crown more complicated.

As Novak Djokovic and the Adria Tour gang cavorted in a Belgrade nightclub, the limbo-dancing tennis stars demonstrated precisely how low the sport could go.

If the president of the ATP player council can get it so egregiously wrong in a time of global crisis, and if Nick Kyrgios can pipe up as the voice of reason, then tennis has just thrown up the most shocking of double faults within its established conventions.

So tennis is in crisis: Wimbledon is cancelled, the US Open will attempt to go ahead without fans, and the French Open is clinging to hope it could happen starting in September.

People have lost their jobs, tournaments have been scrapped and might struggle to return, and coronavirus has caused untold damage, aided and abetted by bewildering human assistance.

A relief fund for low-ranked players whose livelihoods were under threat was openly scorned by multi-millionaire Dominic Thiem, whose argument was put brutally dismantled by near-penniless Algerian player Ines Ibbou.

This is tennis then, midway through 2020.

What's happened so far?

The season was suspended on March 12, days after the Indian Wells Masters was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, and there has been no tennis on the ATP or WTA Tours since.

Rafael Nadal said in May that he doubted there could be any more tennis played in 2020, but the harsh economic reality means there is a strong will to find a way.

And that means tennis is coming back in August, public health and player buffoonery permitting, with a string of tournaments leading up to the US Open, which has kept its regular place on the calendar.

The Cincinnati Masters is moving to Flushing Meadows, but Washington is staying in D.C., and Kitzbuhel, Rome and Madrid are all billed ahead of Roland Garros.

On the women's side, tennis will relaunch in Palermo, Italy, with 20 tournaments scheduled to happen before the end of the year.

Wimbledon, to which the eyes of the sporting world routinely turn at this time of year, looks poised to come out of this intact because of pandemic insurance cover.

Other tournaments have not been so prudent, and are feeling the pinch.

How realistic is a resumption?

If anyone needed a warning about how badly wrong this could all go, Djokovic's exhibition Adria Tour at least provided that. That he, Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov and Viktor Troicki – others too – should test positive for COVID-19 was a damning indictment of an event set up with good intentions that descended into an apparent free-for-all.

Tennis within a bio-secure bubble, with regular testing and restrictions on movement, should allow the sport to push ahead with some of its plans.

But that is a highly expensive exercise and many tournaments will inevitably come to rely on self-policing.

Tennis without fans, living out of hotels, promises to be an austere experience. At the US Open, the stars will be able to see the Manhattan skyline, but they reportedly face being banned from visiting the island.

For the players that cannot afford to rent a house – which will come from a limited supply – then the US Open fortnight will see them split their time between Flushing Meadows and a hotel next to JFK airport.

It will take discipline to make not only the US Open work, but every tournament until the end of the season and beyond. Pockets of infection could be economically ruinous, and from a health perspective the worst-case scenario ought to be lost on nobody.

What has been said?

Serena Williams says she "really cannot wait to return to New York". Her involvement is a huge boon to the US Open, with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in need of good news, having made 110 job cuts during the pandemic period, change in the organisation hastened by the crisis.

In a recent conference call, USTA chief executive Mike Dowse said US Open net operating income stood to be down by "about 80 per cent" for 2020, but he said keeping prize-money at a high level by delving into reserves amid the fall in revenue was "not a model that can continue".

Expect that to be the case practically across the board, with tournaments pulling out all the stops this year in the hope of saving tennis from the prospect of a season all but wiped out.

While the grand slams can just about cope without fans, many other events face an uncertain future if they face behind-closed-doors orders.

Herwig Straka, who manages Thiem and is tournament director of the Vienna Open, told German newspaper Der Standard the event would be "doable" provided it could operate at least at 50 per cent of crowd capacity.

"It is of course not enough," Straka said. "We'd be in the red. We don't want the public to take a year off. It would be impossible below 40 per cent."

Saint Nick?

Australian firebrand Kyrgios has quite the rap sheet, punished at various points for insulting umpires, his vulgar tongue, and even showing a lack of effort.

But this has been open season for the mercurial 25-year-old, who sniped after the news of Djokovic's positive test: "Don't @ me for anything I've done that has been 'irresponsible' or classified as 'stupidity' - this takes the cake."

If Kyrgios is enjoying his break from the tour, so too must the umpires be relishing their time away from him.

His greatest misstep during the pandemic, however, appears to have been going perhaps a touch heavy on the red wine during an Instagram live session with Andy Murray in May.

What happens next?

For all the best intentions, it remains hard to imagine every ATP and WTA tournament going ahead as planned, once the season resumes.

Tennis, like golf, relies on its biggest stars travelling from city to city, country to country, and the speed at which this virus moves and takes hold is hardly conducive to such a lifestyle.

Golf's PGA Tour is already encountering problems, and so will tennis.

The sport is living on the edge. At this point, it needs its star players to be setting a high bar, rather than going low, danger-dancing like nobody's watching.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth marriage was a shorter-lived affair than John Isner and Nicolas Mahut's licentious congress at Wimbledon.

The queen of all socialites wed a Mexican count, Felipe de Alba, on April 13 1983, with their union annulled a day later when it emerged marriage number seven had not yet been quite annulled.

Yet Isner and Mahut spent three days in cahoots at the All England Club, their head-spinning 2010 match breaking record after record, and it all began on June 22, 2010.

Ten years on, and although the longest tennis match in history eventually did end, it stands to be an eternal marker of ultra-endurance.

'IT'S A BASKETBALL SCORE'

Like Max von Sydow's knight facing down Death over a chess board, Mahut eventually bowed, Isner unrelenting in his pursuit of the kill.

They spent 11 hours and five minutes in action, ace after ace, mental and physical torment, but the match spanned a full 46 hours and 34 minutes of the human race's existence.

It started inconspicuously at 6.13pm on the first Tuesday of the Wimbledon fortnight and ended as a globally recognised phenomenon at 4.47pm on the Thursday.

Isner sent exceptional forehand and backhand winners fizzing past Mahut in successive points to take the win, sensational trolling from the American given both men were physically beat on their feet.

The match is quaintly recorded in Wimbledon's official compendium thus: J.R. Isner (USA) bt. N.P.A. Mahut (FRA) 6-4 3-6 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (7-3) 70-68

That final-set score will forever have the air of a misprint, and Isner admitted to feeling "delirious" when play was suspended due to fading light on the Wednesday evening, the contest poised at 59-59 in the decider.

"It's a basketball score," Isner later told ESPN. "It always reminds me of that. I'll never forget these two numbers for as long as I live."

CALL THE COPS

You could watch The NeverEnding Story seven times in 11 hours and five minutes.

In the playing time that it took Isner to break Mahut's resistance, and his heart, you could watch Rafael Nadal's victory over Roger Federer in their epic 2008 Wimbledon final twice over, and be almost halfway through a third viewing.

You could watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy and leave yourself an hour and 47 minutes to wonder why you just did that.

Or you could watch all seven films in the Police Academy franchise and have a spare hour and four minutes to ruminate on whether Mahoney had a heart of gold or a hollow soul.

In 46 hours and 34 minutes, you could indulge your own Mission To Moscow fantasy and drive from the All England Club to the Russian capital, enjoying a couple of short overnight stays on the way.

EVEN THE SCOREBOARD COULDN'T BELIEVE IT

The truth is that barely anybody was engaged with Isner versus Mahut for its entirety. Different days mean different crowds at Wimbledon.

Isner, the 23rd seed, and qualifier Mahut were assigned a late-afternoon Tuesday slot on Court 18, one of Wimbledon's smaller show courts but a hidden gem, and it was only on the Wednesday, when the fifth-set score kept nudging up, that media-room interest began to whip up.

By tea time on the second day, it was the longest match in Wimbledon history, then the longest in all grand slams, going beyond the six hours and 33 minutes Fabrice Santoro needed to beat Arnaud Clement in their 2004 French Open tussle.

The big serving of both players was cooking up never-before-seen numbers.

The scoreboard stalled at 47-47, technology's own expression of disbelief. And yet tennis' Fischer versus Spassky continued, a trial of temperament as much as talent. There was no Cold War element, just the question of which man would crack as the pressure ramped up.

On day four, the UK's Queen Elizabeth II made a rare visit to Wimbledon, albeit not to spend the day on Court 18.

RECORD AFTER RECORD

Come Thursday's denouement, Isner and Mahut had contested the most games in a grand slam match, with 183 toppling the previous record of 112.

They had played the most games in a set, with their 138 eviscerating anything in the record books, and until the dramatic finale they had played 168 consecutive games without a break of serve. The run of holds began early in the second set.

The fifth set alone, lasting eight hours and 11 minutes, was longer than any entire match ever played in professional tennis.

Isner hit a mind-boggling 113 aces across the piece and Mahut made 103, a miracle of athletic achievement.

Serious aesthetes may have found little to love except the drama, but sometimes drama and shows of lung-busting human willpower outweigh finesse on the sporting field.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Isner bombed out a day later, thumped 6-0 6-3 6-2 by Thiemo de Bakker, with the American a victim of his own first-round excesses, but the match against Mahut will never be forgotten.

A plaque on the wall outside Court 18 marks what occurred there, Wimbledon's equivalent of a Hollywood star as passers-by queue to be photographed next to the permanent record.

The introduction of a fifth-set tie-break at 12-12 by Wimbledon in 2019 means there is no prospect of another 70-68 these days in SW19.

Freakishly, Isner and Mahut were drawn together again a year later in Wimbledon's first round. Second time around, Isner needed just two hours and three minutes to record a straight-sets win.

There's no plaque to mark where that happened – it was Court Three, for the record – nor is the rematch spoken of in the bars and restaurants of Wimbledon Village.

They still talk reverentially of the 2010 occasion though, with 'Isner-Mahut' shorthand for the spectacular sporting stamina that tennis had never known the like of before and surely will never again.

As Isner said, moments after walking off court: "I guess it's something Nic and I will share forever really."

Daria Kasatkina has no problem playing grand slams behind closed doors amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the former world number 10 talked up the possibility of an ATP-WTA Tour merger.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc globally, with the WTA Tour suspended since March and not expected to return until August at the earliest.

The French Open has been pushed back to September and the US Open is still scheduled to go ahead, with Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II.

Events are set to be staged without fans when tennis returns, though French Open organisers remain hopeful spectators will be able to attend the rearranged slam at Roland Garros.

World number 12 and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she would rather see majors cancelled than be held without fans, but Kasatkina has no issue with a spectator-less slam.

"It's going to be completely different, especially at grand slams and in night sessions on the big courts, it will lose its energy," 2018 French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finalist Kasatkina told Stats Perform News.

"At the same time, at least if we can play the tournament without spectators, for me it's fine. Yes it's different but to play a tournament and gram slam, it doesn't matter spectators or no spectators. As I think Marin Cilic said, it will be different to win a grand slam like the US Open without spectators there, which is true. At least it will be very special and it will stay in the history forever.

"For the moment, Roland Garros looks very positive. If we see how it goes and it keeps like that, I think Roland Garros will happen and they want to do it with spectators, which is really good. It's different to play with spectators, that's for sure.

"The US Open, of course everyone wants to play and I wish to play the US Open – it's such a special tournament – but I'm not that sure because the situation in the United States is still shaky. The main thing is travelling. If it's going to happen, it's going to be very good. I'll be very happy."

The re-arranged French Open in Paris could provide headaches for players, with the clay-court slam set to take place a week after the final of the US Open on hard courts in New York.

"It's going to be an interesting experience, especially to change the surface and the time so much," the Russian said. "At least between Roland Garros and Wimbledon there is one month, but at least it's in one part of the world. If it's like this, players have to accept it. I'll be happy, even if it's going to be like this.

"When we were juniors and just starting to play professional tournaments, we'd play one tournament there on clay and another here and there. For sure, for some players it will be tough and for many players with injuries it will be a little bit dangerous but I hope everything will be okay."

Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, talk of an ATP-WTA merger has emerged – a tweet from 20-time slam champion Roger Federer backing a unified tennis tour sparking the discussions.

Asked about the possibility of the ATP and WTA joining forces, two-time tournament winner Kasatkina said: "I think it would be good to work together because it's much easier to do something with one structure than two structures like the situation we have now. It's easier to promote tennis as a big tour, not like men's or women's tennis.

"I was a little bit surprised because I never thought they were talking about this, I didn't hear anything. So, it was a little bit surprising especially from Roger Federer on Twitter. But I think it's a good idea. Why not be together? It's better."

The coronavirus-enforced break has provided Kasatkina with plenty of time to reflect and recharge, having struggled in 2019 after her breakout season in 2018.

Kasatkina burst onto the scene two years ago by reaching the French Open and Wimbledon quarter-finals before eventually losing to finalists Sloane Stephens and Angelique Kerber, while she also faced Naomi Osaka in the 2018 Indian Wells decider.

However, Kasatkina endured a frustrating 2019 campaign – only progressing beyond the opening round of a slam once last year, at the French Open, and dropping to 66th in the world rankings. There were, though, signs that the 23-year-old was returning to her best prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Kasatkina reached the last four of the Lyon Open in March, her first WTA semi-final since claiming the Kremlin Cup in October 2018.

"I had a lot of expectations for myself and not only me but the people around after my very successful year in 2018, which I wasn't ready for, especially mentally," Kasatkina, who has become somewhat of a social media queen during the tennis hiatus, said.

"After this, my game fell apart little bit because you have no confidence in your head, there's no confidence in your shots. Rankings drop down as well because I was losing matches.

"I spoke with my coach and many things happened. I was pretty lost at that time but I think that helped me a lot to rebuild my confidence, rebuild my game maybe to change something.

"I think I started the year, not in Australia [first round], but after it better in Lyon. I really felt like I was building up my game again and I'm hungry to play the tournaments and win. Because I finally taste this semi-final, this special tournament. When I came to Indian Wells, I was feeling perfect in the practices. I really felt that if there wasn't the situation with coronavirus, maybe that was the point I could really start again.

"What happened, happened. Now I have the time for myself to maybe think a bit more, to work on the things which I'll probably need when the season starts again. Everything is going the way it should be."

Since losing 6-3 6-2 to Osaka in the 2018 Paribas Open final, Kasatkina has watched the Japanese star go on to win the US Open and Australian Open. Is it a motivation for the right-hander?

"Well after that final and during the tournament, of course I felt I was close to a very high level of tennis," Kasatkina continued. "I showed some good results and finished top 10, which was very positive at the time but maybe a little bit early. After the final, I felt like okay it seems like I have something inside that can bring me higher. But mentally, I wasn't ready."

Kasatkina, who believes she was close to rediscovering her 2018 form before the pandemic, believes the enforced break has been beneficial.

"For sure because for the past season, it was really tough," she added when asked about her time away from the sport. "Maybe it was good I had this time to come down a little bit and live a normal life. Not to rush to every tournaments, tournament by tournament, week by week."

Elite sport is gradually returning to our screens amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's Bundesliga, the UFC and the NRL were among the first top-level events to forge a route back last month after pausing due to the global crisis.

A clutch of Europe's other top football leagues, cricket, motorsport and the United States' major competitions all have designs on behind-closed-doors resumptions in the near future, too, which could create a significant backlog of crucial fixtures.

One positive is that sports fans might now be treated to a number of colossal match-ups back-to-back on the same day at some point over the coming months.

That prospect gives us the opportunity to reflect on five similar occasions with the greatest sporting days since the turn of the century - including one exactly a year ago.

 

JULY 23, 2000

The US had a day to remember as two of their most prominent stars bolstered their still burgeoning reputations with big victories on foreign soil.

The paths of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong have subsequently diverged a little, however.

Woods became the youngest player to complete golf's career grand slam with a record-breaking victory at The Open in 2000, while Armstrong wrapped up a second straight Tour de France title.

The American duo stood at the top of the world, yet history will recall Armstrong's achievements rather differently now he has been stripped of each of his seven successive yellow jerseys for doping.

Woods at least maintained his high standards and held all four major titles after the 2001 Masters, winning again at Augusta as recently as last year.

FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Two more sporting greats shared the same special page in the calendar early in 2004.

It was a long day for anyone who took in both Roger Federer's performance in Melbourne's Australian Open final and Tom Brady's Super Bowl display in Houston, but they were duly rewarded.

Twenty-time grand slam champion Federer had won just one major before facing down Marat Safin in Australia, also becoming the ATP Tour's top-ranked player for the first time. He stayed at number one for a record-shattering 237 weeks.

Brady similarly then doubled his tally of Super Bowl rings by delivering a second triumph in three years for the Patriots, in what was a classic encounter against the Carolina Panthers.

Brady threw for 354 yards and three touchdowns, before Adam Vinatieri's field goal secured a 32-29 win with four seconds remaining.

AUGUST 4-5, 2012

One would struggle to find a greater array of star-studded athletes of various sports than those who congregated in London across the penultimate weekend of the 2012 Olympic Games.

On the Saturday evening, at the Aquatics Centre, swimming prepared to say goodbye to its greatest name. Michael Phelps and the United States won the 4x100m medley, clinching his 18th gold medal in what appeared set to be his final race.

Indeed, Phelps confirmed his retirement following the Games, only to return in predictably dominant fashion in 2016.

Across the city that same night, Team GB athletes were capping a stunning run of medals that would see the day dubbed "Super Saturday". There were six home golds in all, including big wins for Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah in quick succession.

The drama only continued the next day, too, as Andy Murray finally sealed a Wimbledon win over Federer in the tennis event, while Usain Bolt lit up London Stadium in the 100m.

JUNE 1, 2019

It is 12 months to the day since another epic sporting stretch, one that concluded in stunning fashion with one of boxing's great modern upsets.

Rugby union and football each had their respective turns in the spotlight earlier, with Saracens following up their European Champions Cup success - a third in four years - by retaining the Premiership title with victory over Exeter Chiefs.

In Madrid, two more English teams were in action as Liverpool edged past Tottenham in the Champions League final.

But as Sarries and the Reds celebrated, focus turned towards Madison Square Garden where Anthony Joshua was expected to make light work of Andy Ruiz Jr, a replacement for Jarrell Miller following a failed drugs test.

The heavyweight title match did not go to script, however, as Ruiz floored Joshua four times and forced a stoppage to claim his belts, albeit only until the rematch where the Briton saved face.

JULY 14, 2019

These crazy spectacles have largely seen sport spread throughout the day, but three sets of eyes were required to keep up with the action on an epic afternoon last July.

With England hosting and then reaching the Cricket World Cup final, the scene-stealing decider fell on the same day as the Wimbledon men's final and the British Grand Prix, ensuring the United Kingdom was the focus of the sporting world.

The cricket started off several hours before either the tennis or the F1 but still managed to outlast its rival events, with Ben Stokes determined to put on a show as England won via a dramatic Super Over at the end of a nine-hour saga against New Zealand.

Novak Djokovic was battling Stokes for attention as he was taken all the way by that man Federer at the All England Club before finally prevailing 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) in the tournament's longest singles final.

The respective classics made the British GP, completed earlier in the day, something of an afterthought - but not for Lewis Hamilton, who claimed a record sixth victory.

Novak Djokovic celebrates his birthday on Friday, with the world number one showing no signs of slowing down as he turns 33.

The world number one lifted his 17th grand slam title in January with a five-set win over Dominic Thiem.

Five-set sagas have been the domain of Djokovic throughout his career, with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro all sharing the court with him for a series of grand slam thrillers that live long in the memory.

Here we look back at a selection of Djokovic's most epic encounters.

2011 US Open Semi-final v Federer ​– Win

Djokovic is renowned for his power to recover from even the most precarious of positions and Federer was on the receiving end of two such Houdini acts in successive years at Flushing Meadows.

Indeed, after saving two match points in a last-four encounter with the Swiss great in 2010, Djokovic repeated the trick en route to a 6-7 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory after three hours and 51 minutes.

"It's awkward having to explain this loss," Federer said afterwards. "Because I feel like I should be doing the other press conference."

Federer offered little praise for a stunning forehand winner that helped the Serbian save a match point, saying that at that moment Djokovic did not look like a player "who believes much anymore in winning".

He added: "To lose against someone like that, it's very disappointing, because you feel like he was mentally out of it already. Just gets the lucky shot at the end, and off you go."

2012 Australian Open semi-final v Murray – Win

There has arguably been no tournament where Djokovic demonstrated a greater proclivity for endurance than at Melbourne Park in 2012.

His semi-final with Murray, who was weeks into his partnership with coach Ivan Lendl, produced a bewitching prelude of what was to follow in the final.

Murray pushed Djokovic to the limit in a marathon lasting four hours and 50 minutes, fighting back from 5-2 down in the final set of a match in which the ultimate victor battled breathing problems.

Djokovic recovered from surrendering that lead, however, and clinched a 6-3 3-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 7-5 victory to set up a final with Rafael Nadal that somehow surpassed the semi-final as the pair etched their name into the record books.

2012 Australian Open final v Nadal ​– Win

With Djokovic needing to produce an exhausting effort to get beyond Murray and Nadal having taken part in his own classic semi-final with Federer, albeit with victory secured in four sets, both would have been forgiven for putting on a final below their usual standards.

They instead did the exact opposite and delivered a showpiece considered by some to be the greatest final ever.

An undulating attritional battle went for five hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest final in grand slam history and the longest Australian Open contest of all time.

Nadal was on his knees as if he had won the tournament when he took the fourth set on a tie-break and was a break up in a fittingly frenetic decider.

However, it was Djokovic who ultimately prevailed at 1:37am (local time) with a 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 triumph that clinched his fifth grand slam.

Djokovic said: "It was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies, we made history tonight and unfortunately there couldn't be two winners."

2012 US Open final v Murray – Loss

Having been the thorn in Murray's side in Melbourne for successive years, also defeating him in the final of the 2011 Australian Open, Djokovic succumbed to the Scot at Flushing Meadows, but only after a Herculean comeback effort.

Murray took the first two sets, the opener won in the longest tie-break (24 minutes) of a men's championship match. Djokovic, though, appeared primed to become the first man since Gaston Gaudio in 2004 to win a slam final after losing the first two sets.

However, Murray was not be denied and dominated the decider to close out a 7-6 (12-10) 7-5 2-6 3-6 6-2 victory, the longest final in US Open history.

Gracious in defeat, Djokovic said of Murray's first slam title: "Definitely happy that he won it. Us four [Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray], we are taking this game to another level. It's really nice to be part of such a strong men's tennis era."

2013 French Open semi-final v Nadal ​– Loss

With Nadal back from a serious knee injury that cost him seven months of his career, the Spaniard returned to peak form at his favourite slam with another absorbing duel with Djokovic.

Lasting four hours and 37 minutes, it did not quite match the heights of their Australian Open opus, but there were enough twists and turns to satisfy those clamouring for another Djokovic-Nadal classic.

Nadal was unable to serve for the match in the fourth set and Djokovic led 4-2 in the fifth, but a decider stretching one hour and 20 minutes went the way of the King of Clay.

"Serving for the match at 6-5 in the fourth, I was serving against the wind, so I knew it was going to be a difficult game," Nadal said after his 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 9-7 win.

"I was ready for the fight. In Australia 2012 it was a similar match - today it was me [that won]. That's the great thing about sport."

2013 Wimbledon semi-final v Del Potro – Win

"It was one of the best matches I've been a part of."

Given his travails of 2012, Djokovic's words after his victory over the 2009 US Open champion served as remarkably high praise.

It was a match worthy of such an effusive tribute.

Having twisted his knee earlier in the tournament, Del Potro's contribution to a phenomenal last-four clash served as one of more impressive feats of the Argentinian's career.

Against another opponent, his unrelenting and thunderous groundstrokes would have prevailed, but it was Djokovic's court coverage that proved the difference after four hours and 43 minutes.

Following his 7-5 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 victory, Djokovic said of Del Potro: "[He showed] why he's a grand slam champion, why he's right at the top, because every time he's in a tough situation, he comes up with some unbelievable shots."

2015 French Open semi-final v Murray – Win

Two days were needed to separate Djokovic and Murray as the Parisian skies played their part in the semi-final.

A storm halted proceedings on the Friday with Djokovic 2-1 up heading into the fourth set.

Murray appeared to have benefited from the delay as he began Saturday by forcing a decider, but Djokovic was clinical in wrapping up the fifth in comfortable fashion.

He triumphed 6-3 6-3 5-7 5-7 6-1, though a first Roland Garros title would have to wait, however, with Djokovic stunningly defeated by Stan Wawrinka in the final 24 hours later.

2016 US Open final v Wawrinka ​– Loss

Wawrinka would again prove Djokovic's undoing in New York as an astonishing demonstration of shot-making saw the defending champion dethroned.

The Swiss' 18 hours on court ahead of the final were double that of Djokovic, but his toil paid dividends as he bounced back from dropping the first set on a tie-break.

It was a rare occasion where Djokovic ​– battling a blister on his big toe – was rendered powerless in the face of Wawrinka's 46 winners.

Wawrinka came through 6-7 (1-7) 6-4 7-5 6-3 after three hours and 55 minutes, with Djokovic saying: "Congratulations, Stan, to your team as well. This has been absolutely deserved today. You were the more courageous player in the decisive moment and he deserves his title."

2018 Wimbledon semi-final v Nadal - Win

Spread across two days having been made to wait six hours and 36 minutes for Kevin Anderson to outlast John Isner in the other semi-final, Djokovic and Nadal combined to deliver a spectacle eminently more memorable than the meeting of the two big servers.

Djokovic led by two sets to one when play suspended at 11:02 pm (local time), Wimbledon's curfew ending any hopes of a Friday finish.

The prospect of a swift Saturday was soon put to bed for Djokovic as Nadal claimed the fourth. However, Djokovic eventually came through a deciding set among the finest ever contested by the two greats to seal a 6-4 3-6 7-6 (13-11) 3-6 10-8 victory after five hours and 15 minutes.

It marked a first Wimbledon final since 2015 and the start of Djokovic's return to the top of the sport after struggles with injury saw him tumble out of the top 20 in 2018.

Djokovic said: "Speaking from this position right now it makes it even better for me, makes it even more special because I managed to overcome challenges and obstacles, get myself to the finals of a slam." 

2019 French Open semi-final v Thiem ​– Loss

Djokovic was bidding to become the first man to hold all four grand slams at the same time twice but fell foul of Thiem and the French weather.

The last-four meeting began on a Friday but was suspended three times due to wind and rain before organisers cancelled play for the day.

Thiem eventually edged an enthralling affair 2-6 6-3 5-7 7-5 5-7 in four hours and 13 minutes, but Djokovic was quick to direct his ire at tournament officials.

"It [was] one of the worst conditions I have ever been part of," said Djokovic.

"When you're playing in hurricane kind of conditions, it's hard to perform your best."

2019 Wimbledon final v Federer ​– Win

Few would argue Djokovic did not deserve to retain the Wimbledon title. Grinding down Federer remains one of the most arduous tasks in sport, but most would accept this was a final Djokovic was fortunate to win.

An awe-inspiring match, Federer's was a vintage performance, but it was underscored by missed opportunities that will stay with him long after his dazzling career comes to an end.

Federer had a pair of match points at 8-7 in a captivating fifth set. Both were squandered, and few players in the history of tennis have ever been as ruthless at compounding the missed chances of others as Djokovic. 

He duly exercised his flair for punishing profligacy by winning the first ever 12-all tie-break, clinching a fifth Wimbledon crown 7-6 (7-5) 1-6 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 13-12 (7-3) after four hours and 57 minutes.

"If not the most exciting and thrilling finals of my career, in the top two or three and against one of the greatest players of all time," Djokovic said. "As Roger said, we both had our chances. It's quite unreal to be two match points down and come back."

Novak Djokovic is "very confident" he will end his career with a record tally of grand slam titles.

Djokovic has 17 major triumphs to his name after retaining his Australian Open title in January, three fewer than Roger Federer's record haul.

Rafael Nadal is also above the Serb in the list for the most men's grand slam singles titles with 19, as the best players in the world wait to discover when they will be back in action after the season was halted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Djokovic, who turns 33 next Friday, has won five of the last seven grand slams and is the youngest of the 'big three'.

The world number one not only has his sights trained on winning more majors than his rivals, but also the record for most weeks at the top of the rankings.

Djokovic, officially the best player in the world for 282 weeks compared to Federer's record of 310, said in an interview on In Depth with Graham Bensinger: "I don't believe in limits. I think limits are only illusions of your ego or your mind."

He added: "I'm always very confident in myself. I believe I can win the most slams and break the record for longest number one. Those are definitely my clear goals."

That positive outlook is a far cry from when Djokovic declared he was ready to quit after a defeat to Benoit Paire at the Miami Open two years ago.

Djokovic's wife, Jelena, recalled: "He said to me that he's quitting and that's the truth. He lost in Miami. It was a terrible loss. And then he just, you know, gathered all of us and said, 'You know guys, I'm done.'

"And I was like, 'What?' And he goes like, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Edoardo [Artaldi, his agent], you can speak with my sponsors. I want to be clear with them. I don't know if I'm stopping for six months, a year or forever.'"

A player relief fund of more than $6million has been created to support those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

World number one Novak Djokovic said last month he had spoken to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal about a relief fund that would see money distributed to lower-ranked players.

The ATP and WTA Tour seasons are suspended until at least July 13 due to COVID-19.

While Australian Open runner-up Dominic Thiem was opposed to the idea, the governing bodies of tennis came together to raise more than $6m, it was announced on Tuesday.

"The initiative has seen the ATP, WTA, the four grand slam tournaments – the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, The Championships, Wimbledon and the US Open – and the ITF, unite in a show of support to players who are facing unprecedented challenges due to the global impact of COVID-19. Professional tennis is currently suspended until July, 13 2020," a statement read.

"In addition to contributions of their own, the ATP and WTA will administer the financial distributions of the player relief programme, which sees respective contributions from the four grand slam tournaments and ITF split equally between men and women.

"The player relief programme will target a total of approximately 800 ATP/WTA singles and doubles players collectively, in need of financial support. Eligibility for the player relief programme will take into account a player's ranking as well as previous prize money earnings according to criteria agreed by all stakeholders.

"The move by the seven stakeholders provides the financial backbone of the programme, with opportunities for additional contributions to follow. Funds raised through initiatives such as auctions, player donations, virtual tennis games and more, will provide opportunity for further support of the programme moving forward and are welcomed.

"The creation of the player relief programme is a positive demonstration of the sport's ability to come together during this time of crisis. We will continue to collaborate and monitor the support required across tennis with the aim of ensuring the long-term health of the sport in the midst of this unprecedented challenge to our way of life, and our thoughts remain with all those affected at this time."

There have been more than 3.7 million cases of coronavirus worldwide, with the death toll exceeding 257,000.

Andre Agassi reached plenty of milestones in his illustrious tennis career and the eight-time grand slam champion had another to celebrate on Wednesday.

The legendary American has turned 50, which is hard to believe as it does not seem long since he was gracing the courts as one of the great crowd pleasers.

Agassi won 60 ATP Tour titles during a 21-year professional career, making a whopping $31,152,975 in prize money.

The flamboyant former world number won all four majors before retiring at the 2006 US Open.

We reflect on the former world number one's grand slam triumphs and wish him many happy returns.

 

Wimbledon, 1992

It was the unlikely setting of Centre Court where the Las Vegas native's major breakthrough came.

Agassi's early successes were on hard and clay courts, but he came from behind to beat Goran Ivanisevic in five sets to be crowned Wimbledon champion at the age of 22.

US Open, 1994

Agassi's first grand slam title on home soil came at the expense of Michael Stich.

Still sporting long flowing locks that he later revealed to be a wig, Agassi became the first unseeded champion since Fred Stolle back in 1966 with a straight-sets victory over the German.

Australian Open, 1995

He started the 1995 season on a high note, moving just one title away from completing a career Grand Slam at Melbourne Park.

Minus his hairpiece, Agassi added another piece to the jigsaw by seeing off old foe Pete Sampras 4–6 6–1 7–6 (8–6) 6–4 to win the Australian Open.

French Open, 1999

Injury and personal issues led to a fall from grace for the sporting icon, who plummeted to 141st in the rankings.

You cannot keep a good man down, though, and he became only the fifth of eight men to complete a clean sweep of majors by coming from two sets down to beat Andriy Medvedev in the final at Roland Garros 21 years ago.

US Open, 1999

A second US Open title followed in the final major of 1999, a golden year for Agassi in which he started dating Steffi Graf - whom he married two years later.

Compatriot Todd Martin was the latest player to suffer at the hands of Agassi, who was taken the distance again before sealing a 6–4, 6–7 (5–7) 6–7 (2–7) 6–3 6–2 win.

Australian Open, 2000

Agassi got his hands on the Australian Open trophy for a second time five years after his first triumph in the opening major of the season.

The top seed dethroned defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in four sets in the championship match. Agassi would have held all four grand slam titles at the same time if he had not lost to Sampras in the 1999 Wimbledon final.

Australian Open, 2001

He was also the master in Melbourne 12 months later, proving to be a cut above Arnaud Clement.

Frenchman Clement was unable to live with a relentless Agassi, who was in seventh heaven after easing to a 6-4 6-2 6-2 victory.

Australian Open, 2003

Agassi withdrew from the 2002 Australian Open due to a wrist injury, but he was back to regain the title a year later.

He lost just five games in a one-sided final versus Rainer Schuttler, winning what proved to be his final grand slam title at the age of 32. 

The inaugural Indian Premier League began with a bang when Brendon McCullum blasted an unbeaten 158 exactly 12 years ago.

McCullum's devastating display of hitting provided a glimpse of what was to come for the world's premier Twenty20 franchise competition.

To mark the anniversary, we take a look at some of sport's great curtain-raisers.

 

Indomitable Lions tame Maradona et al in Milan

As the defending champions, Argentina had the honour of kicking off the 1990 World Cup in Italy and were expected to encounter few difficulties against Cameroon.

The Indomitable Lions may have never won at a World Cup finals before, but 90 minutes later that had been rectified, Francois Omam-Biyik heading in a winner that was embarrassingly shovelled over the line by Nery Pumpido.

That was only half the story, though. Cameroon finished the game with nine men, Benjamin Massing following Andre Kana-Biyik in being sent off for an outrageous lunge on Claudio Caniggia that remains one of the enduring World Cup images.

Take nothing away from Cameroon, though. They went on to reach the quarter-finals - beaten by England - as the world finally took notice of African football.

 

Springboks take first step on road to glory

The honour of playing the first game at the Rugby World Cup typically goes to the hosts, and in 1995 the opening fixture pitted South Africa against reigning champions Australia in Cape Town.

The Springboks had only been permitted to return to international rugby in 1992 once apartheid was abolished, but, roared on by a partisan Newlands crowd that included future great Bryan Habana, they saw off the Wallabies 27-18.

It proved to be the catalyst for South Africa, who would go on to be crowned World Cup winners, a victory that did much to unite a nation divided for so long.

McCullum's IPL masterclass

T20 was still in its infancy in 2008 when Kolkata Knight Riders opener McCullum came to the crease, and there was little indication of what was to come when the New Zealander failed to score off his first six balls faced.

He soon got his eye in. McCullum would go on to smash 158 off 73 balls, including 13 sixes and 10 fours, as the Knight Riders cruised to a 140-run win against Royal Challengers Bangalore. It was a better start than even the IPL architects could have hoped for.

Only five men have recorded higher scores than McCullum's knock that day, but none have been as important as the display which showed the IPL was a force rather than a farce.

 

Lleyton Blewitt at Wimbledon

Lleyton Hewitt stepped onto Centre Court on June 23, 2003 as the defending Wimbledon champion to face world number 203 Ivo Karlovic.

The Australian demolished his 6ft 10ins opponent in a 19-minute first set, which he took 6-1, but Karlovic, playing in his first grand slam, flipped the script.

A 1-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 6-4 victory represented 24-year-old Karlovic's 11th Tour win as Hewitt became just the second man to lose in the first round at Wimbledon as a defending champion.

 

Patriots are Hunt-ed down in 2017

The defending Super Bowl champions have had the honour of kicking off the NFL regular season since 2004 and there was another championship banner being unveiled in Foxborough on September 7, 2017.

Pre-game talk surrounded the possibility of the New England Patriots going 19-0. The Kansas City Chiefs had other ideas, though, routing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in their own backyard in a 42-27 success as rookie running back Kareem Hunt went off for 246 yards from scrimmage.

Belichick and Brady bounced back and New England finished 13-3 before making another Super Bowl, where Nick Foles and the 'underdog' Philadelphia Eagles lifted the Lombardi Trophy in Minnesota.

Matteo Berrettini still gets goosebumps when he thinks about being complimented by Roger Federer.

Despite starting 2019 outside the top 50, Berrettini ended the year with a place in the ATP Finals as the world number eight.

Titles in Budapest and Stuttgart, an appearance in the final in Munich and a run to the US Open semi-finals proved key to the Italian's remarkable ascendancy.

His impressive rise did not go unnoticed by Federer, who praised Berrettini's performances when they were in action at the Halle Open.

The 20-time major champion offered more words of encouragement when their first on-court meeting ended in Federer triumphing 6-1 6-2 6-2 in the fourth round of Wimbledon.

Berrettini told Stats Perform: "Before Wimbledon I played Stuttgart and Halle. I won Stuttgart whose defending champions was Federer.

"In Halle I met him and he complimented me. Before we only exchanged some hellos but to be complimented by him still gives me goosebumps.

"We didn't speak during Wimbledon because we were in the same half of the draw, so no tips. But then he told me: 'Congratulations for your grass season. Go on like this and you will go high.'

"Then we met again in London for the ATP Finals. He was very kind because we chatted during the famous boat trip from the hotel to the arena. We chatted about the holidays and his plans.

"The relationship with all of them is so weird. I grew up looking up to them, you know. But the relationship is good, they are special."

Berrettini will not get to continue his development on grass this season with the whole swing, including Wimbledon, cancelled due to the coronavirus.

The 23-year-old is disappointed he will not get to play at the All England Club, having gained a greater affinity for the surface following his displays in 2019.

"Without a shadow of a doubt, Wimbledon is my favourite slam. I reached the US Open semis but I regard Wimbledon as the temple of our sport," said Berrettini.

"I always say that in this place even people who are not experts or passionate about tennis, go there and get keen to be participating and playing. It is wonderful and its cancellation is very tough for us.

"It is a peculiar situation. It is on grass and in England where the weather is mostly rainy, they can play only in certain dates. They can't move it to November because in London it would be five degrees. That's why the cancellation.

"Until last year, though, my relationship with grass was not ideal at all. But since the Davis Cup tie in India, everything changed for me.

"Maybe I improved in some aspects, but I didn't even realise at the end of the season I had played many high-level games on that surface and now it is one of my favourite."

Tim Henman believes the enforced break from tennis could help Andy Murray, saying he hoped the Brit had "a few Wimbledons left in him".

Wimbledon was cancelled this year for the first time since World War II due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Murray was said to be nearing a return from a hip injury, having last played at the Davis Cup Finals in 2019.

Henman feels the break could be beneficial for two-time Wimbledon champion Murray, who turns 33 in May.

"He has missed so much tennis but perhaps [the break] will give him the opportunity – if his body and his hip enable him – to play longer, in age terms," he told UK media, via The Guardian.

"I remember playing with Agassi after Andre had 18 months out, for very different reasons, but he came back fresh and invigorated to play. He kept going until he was 36.

"In those days that was old for a top tennis player. I stopped when I was 33 and that was pretty old at the time, but with training techniques and injury prevention, players are certainly playing longer.

"You would like to think that if Andy's body permits and he still has the motivation that I think he does there can still definitely be a few Wimbledons left in him yet."

A player who appears closer to the end of his career is Roger Federer, with the 20-time grand slam champion turning 39 this year.

Henman – an All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC) board member – said the Swiss great, who underwent knee surgery in February, would be shattered by the cancellation of Wimbledon.

"Someone like Federer, coming to the end of his career, is devastated but understands the decision," said Henman, a four-time Wimbledon semi-finalist.

"It will affect a lot of people in a lot of different ways."

Simona Halep is saddened by the cancellation of this year's Wimbledon, but described the honour of being defending women's singles champion for two years as "rare and special".

Wimbledon was this week cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has spread to over a million people worldwide.

It will mark the first time since World War Two that the grass-court grand slam has not been held.

Halep clinched her second major title at the All England Club last year, crushing Serena Williams in straight sets in the final.

In an interview with The Times, she said of not being able to defend her title this year: "Even though the cancellation of Wimbledon felt inevitable after the past few weeks, I had hoped it might somehow find a way to stay on the calendar as it is such a special tournament.

"So Wednesday was a sad day and I thought back to some of the happiest emotions of my life last year at the All England Club.

"I will miss going back to see Centre Court, the scene of that amazing final last year. I will miss seeing my name on the wall and all the nice things you get as a member of the club. I will miss the grass, a surface I finally fell in love with.

"I will miss wearing white. And I will miss the feeling of belonging as part of the huge tradition that Wimbledon represents.

"I know that Wimbledon looked at other opportunities to stage the championships. They looked at playing without spectators and postponing, but none of these options worked because of the nature of the surface and the high number of people involved. It makes sense to call it off now so that we are all mentally prepared for it, rather than to wait and let people down at the last minute.

"The club sent me a nice email on Wednesday. I had previously been discussing with them the prospect of doing some filming as the defending champion in the lead-up to the tournament. Hopefully we can do those things next year instead.

"In a positive way, I will have the rare and special honour of being a reigning Wimbledon champion for two years. I love the tradition in which the defending champion gets to open play on Centre Court, so I hope I can still do that next year as that will be something to savour."

The ATP and WTA Tours are both suspended and Wimbledon's cancellation has led to talk of the rest of the 2020 season being wiped out.

"The virus is like nothing we have ever faced before, and it's important to remember that tennis is not important in comparison to this life-threatening opponent," added Halep.

"At this point, I do not want to speculate on whether the remainder of the 2020 season will be shut down. We have to see clear signs that the virus is under control.

"We have to let our governments and medical staff do their jobs, and when life starts returning to normal, then we can start to think about tennis."

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