Kelli Niehaus (University of Cincinnati) on The Slice w/ Nate Walroth 🎾

Kelli Niehaus | Class: Freshman | From: Cincinnati, OH | HS: Mount Notre Dame | Studying: Business |

Previously trained: @ Queen City Racquet Club & Riverside Athletic Club in Cincinnati

Racquet: Wilson Ultra

Q: Why did you ultimately end up choosing the Bearcats?

KN: Honestly, I didn’t see myself staying this close to home, but then I visited….and I just really liked everything about it. The campus’ atmosphere, the people, the coaches. I saw the team as a good fit for me. It also has a good reputation academically. I really liked everything about it.

Q: How do you compare college tennis to high school (the travel, workouts, schedule, etc)? & you and your partner recently had a big win against Kentucky in doubles. I assume that environment was fun.

KN: It’s way more intense. The practices and workouts and what not. It has more of a team aspect to it than high school too. Yes, that was an exciting win for us. Beating a good team like Kentucky. It was fun.

I’m really looking forward to the spring and going on road trips with the team. Just bonding and hanging out because we went to different tournaments during the fall (season). It’s going to be fun to get closer.

Q: You grew up with older siblings who also play(ed) in college. Were you guys always competing?

KN: Yes, definitely. It was fun growing up in a tennis family. We all played a lot together as kids and as a family. I still hit with Sandy. She’s still really good (laughs). [Sandy Niehaus – OSUBuckeye 2013-2017 – 54th ranked singles player in NCAA as a senior. Andrew Niehaus – NKU Norse 2017- current ]

Q: Have you gotten a hit session in with Coach Kat (Adamovic) yet?

KN: I just hit with her like a half hour ago (laughs). Shes great. She’s been through everything we are about to go through, so she’s really good relating to us. Also, really good at tennis (laughs). (Kat is a former All-American @ Oklahoma State University)

Q: She hits a good ball and I enjoy watching her intensity as a coaching…

KN: Oh yeah. She is still very good. Yep. She does the same drills with us that she did at OSU, I think that’ll help us too. It got her to a very high level.

Q: What player(s) on tour are you a fan of?

KN: I mean I love….everybody loves Federer and Nadal. They’re awesome though. Then with the women, I am a big fan of Simona Halep. I really like how she plays.

Q: Who are you rooting for in the finals tonight?

KN: I am rooting for Thiem to win his first major. I just feel like he’s had so many chances in finals and he deserves to have his (breakthrough). He’s been playing unbelievable.

Q: Will you watch?

KN: I don’t know. Will it be worth getting up at 3AM to watch? (laughs) It might be. I just know I need sleep!

Talking 2020 with Paul Annacone 🎾

– former coach of Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, & Sloane Stephens

– currently coaches Taylor Fritz

– coach at ProTennisCoach.com & a commentator at Tennis Channel

NW: How would you evaluate Taylor’s 2019? & What are the main focuses for his game in 2020?

Paul Annacone: Good year, finishing around 30, but there’s still a lot of work to do. That’s the most encouraging thing for me. He had a really good year, but there’s a lot of improvements to be made. I think the biggest challenge is going to be getting away from the match light and work on the areas that’ll hopefully take him from a very good pro to a great one.

Our focus has been on returning…especially second serve points. How can we create more ways for him to be offensive? He has a great power game and now we’ll work on the transition area of the court. Becoming not so much just a lateral baseliner player, but having a few more options in terms of moving forward…behind big ground strokes. His net play too, because it’ll become more important finishing. When you hit ground strokes as well as he does, you should be able to move forward and pick off some nice, easy volleys.

NW: What are the objectives/tasks/responsibilities as his coach?

PA: My job is to process what aspects of his game need work…so I can address the changes we have to make in a positive and meaningful way. Also, balancing and managing the schedule, so that he’s competing consistently, but blocking off time to get in the “classroom” to work on things. A tough balance, because if it were up to Taylor, he would play a tournament every week.

Also, working to help manage expectations and the emotions this career entails. Be happy about a win and it’s fine to be upset and disappointed if you lose. That’s healthy. But find that balance. Don’t let your losses drown you in this business.

NW: How was the transition, from being purely a coach to being in the booth commentating (Tennis Channel)? Was it a natural/comfortable adjustment?

Annacone looks on as Federer whips a backhand

PA: No, it wasn’t a natural transition. Luckily, I have great producers and great fellow commentators around me. As a coach, a lot of the stuff we do is close to the vest. It’s not about externalizing it for the public to hear. It’s about delivering the message in a meaningful way to the player…and generally that’s a private conversation.

I feel comfortable with my MO in the coaching arena. Confident in my ability to develop players. When I’m commentating…I am trying to build stories and also explain to the audience, not what is happening, but why it’s happening. There’s stuff happening mentally with players who experience the pressure you feel out there. Fans see a guy miss a routine ball, but it’s my job to explain what’s going on in that players head. That’s kinda what I feel the job of the analyst is.

NW: Are you in favor of the ATP allowing coaching?

PA: I love tennis, because I love problem solving…and in tennis there’s nowhere to hide. It’s just you. You have to make the adjustments. I don’t want to see coaching allowed. I think we should celebrate tennis for what it is. One vs one. Trying to figure out how to problem solve under pressure is amazing. When you walk onto center court at one of the majors and feel the spotlight and all that it entails…it’s what makes these athletes so impressive. They’re able to figure things out by themselves. I don’t want to see someone like me run out there at 4-5 in the final set.

I want to celebrate the players ability to figure the puzzle out, under duress. To me, that’s exciting. If you’re on a team…you can rely on other players to step up. No matter how great LeBron James is, he has teammates helping. If you step out on Centre Court at Wimbledon, you better be able to figure some stuff out. That’s quite a task, and the reason I have so much admiration for the top guys that do it consistently. It’s fun watching the young guys try to figure it out.

[PA: Pete Sampras would say to me, “When I play great, I know I’m not losing.” ]

NW: The ball striking nowadays seems to be at a different level across the tours. Are people swinging differently (lol)?

PA: There’s a lot of great champions in tennis that didn’t hit the ball perfectly, or have the best technique. They understood what worked for them.

One of my favorite players of all time is Jim Courier. He dominated for a couple years and no one is going to coach a player to hit the ball how he did. He worked his backside off though and knew exactly what worked for his game and his style.

I’m a huge fan of him. He’s a poster child for a great professional tennis player, as far as working with what you’ve been given and getting the most out of it. I’ve also had the fortune of working with him for a few years at the Tennis Channel, and in my opinion, he’s the best analyst in the business. It’s fun to be on his team so to speak.

NW: Who else do you enjoy listening to talk tennis?

PA: Mary Carrillo is really boisterous and out there. She just wears her heart on her sleeve and it’s amazing. Steve Weissman is a younger guy that does NFL and tennis. He’s an amazing color analyst, but he has a different style. Brett Haber has been doing this forever and he’s really good. He’s a facts machine. He knows everything. Tracy Austin, Lindsay Davenport, Martina Navratilova. I love working and listening to all them.

NW: What are the storylines that interest you in 2020?

PA: I think the biggest story is, will one of these young guys finally break through (at a major). When will Roger, Novak, and Rafa slip up? We’ve sort of lost a generation of players in the mix. Not necessarily lost, but the Dimitrov, Raonic, and Nishikori group…we thought they would be able to squeeze out a couple majors…and they haven’t. That generation kind of got suffocated by the greatness of the Big 3. Now we’re in a new era where I think Tsitsipas is the closest of the young guys to winning a major. It could be this year though (someone steps up). I’ll be interested to see if someone does, who it’ll be. Is it Stefanos? Is it Shapovalov? Is it Medvedev? Do one of the young Americans make a run? That’s going to be exciting for me as well. I think this will be a year of reckoning for a lot of players on tour.

NW: What are you looking forward to from the American men this year?

PA: To see if one will one of the young American guys take a jump. Will Fritz, Tiafoe, Opelka, or Tommy Paul find that consistency and make a move into the top 15-20 in the world, or will it take a little more time? Neither would surprise me.

NW: What other player(s) do you think will have a good 2020?

PA: I’ll be shocked if Felix Auger Aliassime doesn’t get it going this year. He’s one of the more composed and thoughtful young players and I think he will get back on track, despite struggling as of late. He’s going through the sophomore re-evaluation I call it. After one big year, the external expectations rise and therefore the internal expectations rise. I don’t care what anyone says…the outside expectation affects these players. And I think that’s what’s going on with Felix right now. He’s such a terrific player and a great athlete though.

NW: What about on the women’s side? What excites you?

PA: Serena winning last week had me wondering, “Will she get that next major?” She’s amazing. If she’s healthy, there’s no reason she can’t get back to the top. No one has completely taken the reigns and claimed dominance on the WTA Tour.

NW: How many majors do you think she will win this year?

PA: I’ll be shocked if she doesn’t win one major this year, but if she won two…it would surprise me.

NW: Why do you think most players, past and present, seem to believe winning Wimbledon is the best feat in tennis?

PA: Every major has its own personality. Wimbledon is essentially the Mecca of our sport, and because of that…it has a different aura around it. It feels pristine and has the same type of feeling as The Masters does. A lot of history.

New York City is the US Open. It’s crazy, it’s loud, it’s rambunctious. Australia is the big friendly major. Everyone is there for a good time and it kicks off the year. Roland Garros is Paris. It’s culture, it’s French, it’s the food. I don’t look at any of them as better or worse. They’re all just different. I’ve begun to define things more generically.

NW: What memory do you think of first when I say Wimbledon?

PA: My first time Wimbledon I qualified for the main draw and lost to Jimmy Connors in the quarterfinals. The place will always be special to me because of that. A free tennis lesson from Jimmy Connors (6-2, 6-4, 6-2). Not everyone gets to say that. He was incredible.

NW: How did you begin coaching Federer? I read that you had a trial period with him. If so, did it feel like one?

PA: Roger and I knew each other pretty well already. Most of it was going to a few dinners and talking about his game, his philosophy, and where he wanted to go. And then telling him what I thought that journey looked like. Then spending a couple weeks on the practice court going over stuff. So, we got familiar with one another fairly quickly. I didn’t necessarily feel like it was tryouts. But everything is a trial in this business. I’ve seen so many people lose their jobs in this business, nothing is for certain.

NW: Who are you picking to win the 2020 Australian Open titles?

PA: It sounds boring, but I’m going Novak and Serena. I could’ve answered it like this for the last decade. I mean he’s won it 7 times. It’s a joke. My biggest question with Serena is always, did she get enough matches in? And she has now, playing really well.

NW: 5 years from now. Who will lead the men in majors? (2025)

PA: Oh wow. Uhm…I’ll say.

  1. Novak
  2. Rafa
  3. Roger

    If everyone stays healthy, that’s what I think. They’re all great.

    NW: What kinda defines greatness, in your opinion?

    PA: One of my ultimate clichés is,” How good is your average level?” One of the biggest mistakes in coaching is too many try to coach their players to play great. That’s not what I do at all. My big thing is, how do you react when you don’t play well. That’s what defines you. You play a handful of spectacular matches a year, a handful of garbage matches, and the rest is what makes you up. So, what are you on those days? That defines your career arc. It’s what makes the all-time greats…great.

    If it’s a great day, they don’t think they cured cancer….and if it’s a bad day…they don’t think they need to go work at McDonalds. Systemically work through the ups and downs…make subtle tweaks and keep their head in it.

    NW: Who is the best player all time, in your opinion? (GOAT)

    PA: I have people say that all the time. Talking about who the greatest of all time is. I don’t like the word (goat). People play in different times against different eras. I would say most accomplished. I’ve lived through a lot of eras so it’s hard for me to say, because a lot of things have happened. I think if Rod Laver played in today’s era, with all the advancements in technology…he would have an even better record than he did. He would be considered more in that conversation. If Rafa had to play in an era with much more differentiation in court speed and surfaces…he would’ve had to make adjustments, but being a great player…he would’ve. Roger wasn’t in his prime when Rafa and Novak were. He’s 5 years older, so it’s a little different.

    It’s hard to compare eras and such. Pete Sampras’ greatest achievement…the one he was most proud of…. wasn’t winning 14 slams. It was finishing as the year-end World No. 1 for six consecutive years. No one’s ever done before. It means, each 12-month segment…he was better than everyone. He said, “It was most important to me, because I knew I only had one shot at it.”

    NW: Are these guys (The Big 3) the best talents that you’ve seen?

    PA: I think Andre Agassi is one of the best ball strikers of all time. I think Sampras is in the conversation as one of the most athletic of all time. His play was poetry, like Federer. I think Nadal is in the same category as Jimmy Connors. They all have different stuff that they’re excellent at. Federer is the updated version of the Sampras. Rafa is the updated version of Connors. Novak is the updated version of Andre.

Cincinnati’s Next Up: Peyton Stearns

Age: 18 (Senior in HS)

Hand: Right

Racquet: Wilson Blade 98

Training Facility: Riverside Athletic Club (Hamilton, Ohio)

Current WTA Rankings: 524th in singles & 714 in doubles

Record: 42-30

Plans for 2020:   Malibu 25K

Midland Michigan 100K – Will ask for a wild card

Lexington 100K – Will ask for a local WC

Possibly the Volvo Car Open (SC)

Q: When did you start playing tennis & why did you choose tennis over other sports growing up?

Peyton Stearns: I started playing when I was 8…I remember Mario Contardi taught me how to hit a ball at Harper’s Point. I didn’t focus solely on tennis until I was like 13. I was doing gymnastics, track, basketball, and soccer for a while. It came down to gymnastics and tennis. I really liked tennis and loved my coach. My gymnastics coach was pretty mean and that helped make the decision easier (laughs).

Q: You’ve trained primarily in Cincinnati since the beginning. Proof you can become a professional without moving south or joining an academy. That’s uncommon and big for up and coming players in the Midwest to see.

PS: Yeah, I believe you can make it anywhere you are. You just need to find the right people. People you trust and can work with. I am lucky to have had been coached by some really good pros in the area over the years. Being able to play against and learn from other good players is important. Training at Riverside, I hit with Sandy Niehaus (OSU ’17) and her sister Kelli (’23).…which is good for me.

Q: Looking back on your 2019, how do you think it went?

PS: I think 2019 went well. I recently made my first finals of a $25K in Sumter, South Carolina and reached my career high ranking of 516 this year. I started the year around 1000, so almost cutting that in half was awesome.

Q: Did you have a ranking in mind heading into the year?

PS: My goal was to be around 450….so I wasn’t too far off. I’m happy with it because some of the results I’ve had haven’t gone my way, but I’m still fine-tuning different areas of my game and it’s beginning to show in matches. Now I just need to put it all together

Q: Do you prefer one surface over another?

PS: I feel like my game translates well to any surface, but I would say hard court is my favorite because it compliments my game the best (Record 12-7). My results on clay are pretty good though (Record 12-10). I just feel like when I attack the ball on a hard court…it’s a really good ball, but on clay…you play grinders who can get to that extra ball.

Q: Tennis is a sport that demands a lot of traveling. What are some of the places tennis has taken you?

PS: I’ve played all the junior grand slams (London, Paris, Melbourne, NYC). I’ve also been to Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Canada, and done a lot of traveling in the States.

Q: That’s awesome. Not many 18-year-olds can relate to that. Which slam is your favorite?

PS: (Laughs) That’s what my Mom tells me. It’s true though. And I would say the Australian open. I’m probably a little biased because that was my first slam, but it’s a lot of fun down there. That’s for sure.

Q: What has your high school experience been like?

PS: I started online school freshman year of high school. I wanted to go to Ursuline, but they weren’t cool with me to missing more than 20 days of classes. I was kind of like, “yeah that’s not possible.”

Q: How did you do grade school?

PS: I wasn’t traveling quite as much at that time, but my eighth-grade teacher played tennis and understood the dynamics of the travel schedule. He was nice enough to help me approach other teachers about, so I could have all the class work before leaving. It wasn’t as big of a deal, because I worked ahead. I really appreciate him for that.

Q: Do you miss school at all? Is it more enjoyable having the freedom with online classes while traveling and playing?

PS: I miss it sometimes, but I’m getting to go down a path that no other kids my age are doing. I don’t really feel like I am missing out on anything. I still go to homecoming and prom. I still have friends that go to high school here. And it’s not like I don’t see other kids when I train.

Q: Is college in your plans?

PS: College is in my plans. I have actually narrowed it down to 4 or 5 schools. My parents and coach agree that unless I’m in the top 250 or 275 by the time I have to make a decision (April)…I should go to school…at least for a semester. Then I can leave and have my education paid for when I decide to comeback. I have some time to make the decision, but I want to do it in the next two to three weeks. It’ll be good to get that off my plate, so I can focus solely on tennis.

Q: Have you enjoyed the recruiting process?

PS: It’s awesome to be wanted by so many people, but it can be hard to enjoy when your phone is blowing up every other second. If you don’t respond for a little while, they all the sudden think you don’t want to go there. It can be a lot to manage (laughs).

Q: What schools have been in touch with you the most? Will you stay close to home?

YPS: All of them. But I’ve narrowed it down to Texas, Pepperdine, Florida, Ole Miss, & UVA. I’m trying to escape the Midwest. I think I need to be playing more outdoor tennis than indoor. That’s a pretty big part of the equation.

Q&A with Tour Emcee Andrew Krasny

Andrew Krasny is the voice heard around many ATP and WTA tournaments all over the country, in his role as the tour renown emcee. Krasny began his career in show business, working under the late comedian Joan Rivers. Initially, he was answering fan mail for her shows until he was later brought on as a writer and producer, which he did for nearly 30 years.

Krasny & Simona Halep in Shenzhen (2019)

How Krasny broke into the tennis stratosphere is pretty interesting. “When I was a kid, I was pretty klutzy, but in my late 20s I picked up tennis and fell in love with the game. At the time, I was working in television, hosting a dating show, and warming up audiences (for Joan Rivers).” A role that would make his professional leap a much easier adjustment.

Q: So, how’d you get your foot in the door?

“I was at a tennis tournament 18 years ago (2001) and I remember watching Andre Agassi being announced by a guy in his 80s and thinking…you know what? He’s gonna be retiring soon. I want his job.

I later approached a friend who worked for the tournament director (Bob Kramer) and Bob was nice enough to allow me to volunteer for a week on the Grandstand Court. I wound up being a volunteer emcee for three years…just in it for the free gear and thankfully it turned into a career.”

Krasny introduced Naomi Osaka to Serena Williams for the first time (2018)

Q: What do you love most about your role as an emcee and entertainer?

“I love an audience and I always have. I love making crowds laugh. The key as a host, emcee, and announcer is to understand ….no one is there to see you, but it’s your job to make them feel welcome. You never want to make it about yourself or be bigger than the players. It’s a celebration of the event and people performing.”

Q: How has the job changed over the last decade?

“It’s changed ten fold over the last 10 years. I used to just come with an iPod and that was it. Now I have a crew of 65 to 70 people putting out high-level production elements. Technology has made this job easier. A couple additives include Hawkeye (shows ball mark) on multiple courts and more intricate graphics and clips for the big screen.”

Q: Initially, was it challenging to gain the respect of the players on tour?

“Yes, but I think they respect someone who watches, knows the game, and asks meaningful questions, because they get asked questions all day by the media. My job is to ask questions fans want to know the answers to and I think coming from a pure fan standpoint…I kind of have the advantage. Most announcers and analysts are former players. I feel like I represent the diehard fans of the game.”

Krasny with Andy Murray in Cincinnati (2019)

Q: What’s the key to an engaging an athlete in an interview? Especially following a match.

Another key is to match the energy of the person I’m interviewing. Whether they win or lose, it changes their energy level one way or another. I need to take that into consideration when I go out there. And never anything negative.”

Q: What’s the key to an engaging an athlete in an interview? Especially one following a match.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with these players behind the scenes over the years and have developed genuine friendships with many of them. I think they realize I want to represent them in the best light because they understand our friendship is genuine. I think that helps with all my post-match interviews and such. I make sure not to be too invasive, but at the same time…I want to ask questions that are worthy. They don’t want to be asked stupid questions either.

Krasny with Novak Djokovic at the Miami Open (2019)

Q: Surely some aren’t as easy to crack as others…

“Definitely. Some players are friendlier than others and easier to get to know. I would say some just understand the value of friendships more than others. They’re all professional and very decent and appreciative human beings.”

Q: I think your energy and ability to be informal but candid helps as well. It wasn’t the norm for an emcee to be a jokester/entertainer. Thoughts?

“Yes, I agree. I have a large sense of humor. Luckily, no players have ever said “I don’t want to joke around” or “I don’t like your jokes.” But you learn who to joke with and who not to. And it’s all about timing.

Before Federer goes on court at a major…I don’t tell silly jokes. I joke around a lot, but you learn the appropriate times. I would say my sense of humor has gotten me to where I am today, combined with my professional dedication to being the best host, announcer, or emcee that I can be.”

Krasny with Roger Federer in Cincinnati (2019)

Q: Are tennis crowds in general very similar? & How do fans in Cincinnati compare?

“Actually, no. It’s interesting because every crowd I interact with is different. The commonality is they all love tennis, but there are real palpable differences.

One thing I love about Cincinnati’s crowd is they have a true respect for the history of the game in the Midwest. There’s a genuine hospitality there, and their love and appreciation for the game of tennis is real. The passion is very real and it’s what makes it one of my favorite tournaments. “

Q: Your voice has become synonymous with the Western & Southern Open. You’ve been doing the tournament for awhile.

“It’s been 11 years I believe. I love the history there. It’s a special place. I head there a few days early every year to do the draw party and it’s a ton of fun. I love a lot of things in Cincy, there’s a lot to do too. Graeter’s (Black Raspberry Chip), Skyline Chili, Rhinegeist Brewery.

Krasny sitting beside Pete Sampras at the BNP Paribas (2019)

Q: What makes it different?

“One thing that stands out is how they play every anthem right before the finals. (“Opera singer Berti Helmick performs! She’s been doing it for DECADES.”) The players appreciate that. They are astute and intelligent people, and know where they are appreciated. The top players seem to always choose Cincinnati. Like Roger (Federer). He doesn’t need to be there at this stage of his career, but he and his family love it there. When they say that…they mean it.

Also, shout out to John Barrett (Western & Southern CEO). He loves tennis. And if it wasn’t for John…tennis in Mason likely wouldn’t be what it is today.”

The Ultimate Warrior

Rafael Nadal tuned pro in 2001, at the age of 15, three years after deciding to pursue tennis over soccer. A decision his father forced in order to keep his academics a priority. The young Spaniard from Mallorca quickly found his footing, and began climbing the professional ranks. By December of 2002, Nadal had cracked the top 200 and began flashing his potential. The climb to the top 50 proved to be more difficult.

A straight-sets win over long-time rival, Roger Federer, proved to be a coming out party for the 17-year-old. Little did he know that the 2004 Miami Open match would be the first of 40 plus matches between the two. On March 28, he imposed his will on the world number one and dominated the match from start to finish with his forehand. It helped Nadal inch closer to making the top 10 in the world. Which he reached in late April of 2005, and hasn’t left since.

2004 Miami Open. Nadal won 6-3, 6-3

Nadal’s talent was no longer a secret. With his muscular physique, “catlike” quickness, and mega forehand, Rafa took the tennis world by storm. And he did so with fashion, sporting sleeveless shirts, capri pants and long curly hair. With his “all-out-all-the -time” style, he was a stark contrast to the suave Swiss in every facet. He was different and fans were fascinated.

Fast forward to the end of 2019, and Nadal is the oldest player to finish year-end world number one in the history of the ATP rankings. A remarkable feat at 33 given the miles on his knees, physical playing style, and injuries over the years. Nadal won 89.2% (58-7) of his matches this year, 6.1% higher than his career winning percentage (83.1%), the best winning percentage of the Open Era. (Second-best was Federer with a winning percentage of 84.1% <53-10>) He claimed two Masters 1000s titles, the French Open (12th), the U.S. Open (4th), and led Spain to its sixth Davis Cup title with an 8-0 record.

No one knows how much longer Nadal can sustain this ridiculous level of play late in his career, but he hasn’t shown many signs of slowing down. His game is much more offensive now from the baseline, and he allows himself to miss aggressively, yet he’s still a human backboard. Nadal’s improved serving motion and seemingly forever improving volleys have been key to helping him end points and matches quicker, allowing him to stay fresher deeper into the year. As the 2020 season is just around the corner, he trails Roger Federer by just a single slam for the all-time record, a feat the King of Clay is likely salivating over.

Major Titles: 19

Titles: 84

Career Prize Money: $119,601,561

Overall Record: 977-197

The Climb to #1

9/24/01 – 1002

8/12/02 – 466

12/09/02 – 200

7/14-03 – 56

4/25/05 – 7 

7/25/05 – 2

8/25/08 – 1

Former Buckeye J.J. Wolf Adjusts to Life on Tour

J.J. Wolf beat fellow American Sebastian Korda 6-4, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6) on Sunday, in the finals of the JSM Challenger of Champaign-Urbana. Winning five matches in five days, including a couple three setters, Wolf claimed his second title on the challenger circuit. The win moved him up 66 spots in the rankings, up to 189th in the world, a career high ranking.

“I grew up playing on indoor hard courts, so I felt really comfortable”, Wolf said after winning his third match. “It’s pretty cool playing in another Big Ten setting (Illinois), somewhere I’ve played before.” He was pleased with his play and his ability to execute the game plan the coaches and he had. The goal was to make a high percentage of first serves and “pound balls into the corners and get to the net.”

Wolf, who turned pro in July, forgoing his senior year at Ohio State, says he never thought much about the tour until after his breakout 35-2 junior year campaign. “After the season I was able to reflect. I thought I made nice improvements (in my game). I also think I played every college tennis player ranked in the top 15 and believed I stacked up pretty well.” Wolf was a dominant singles player and a near lock for a point every match. He took pride being done first in singles and “letting some pressure off the guys and being able to cheer them on.”

It was very tough for Wolf to leave one of the best tennis programs in the country and the school that he loved. “I love the coaches and the guys with my whole heart. Fortunately, I live in Columbus and still get to see them.” He misses playing with his teammates and for Buckeye Nation. He admits it has been an adjustment. “At first, it was a bit of a shock. The extra strength you get from playing for a team and for your school was taken away from me. Now I’m playing more for myself and my new team (coaches & family).” Life on the challenger circuit is quite different than being an All-American at OSU.

He’s beginning to get comfortable on tour though and is “finding that same joy” and passion he once had on the court. He noted his passion, “comes from wanting to make my family proud a little.” (Coming from a competitive family of tennis players and other athletes…a little proud is likely an understatement.) It’s the reason he loves the Western & Southern Open more than any tournament. “There’s no substitute for it.” Playing in the city he was born and raised, in front of his family and friends.

Growing up, Wolf stuck with tennis over other sports not because he necessarily loved tennis, but because he loved that he could control the outcome. “I loved that aspect of tennis.” He didn’t like relying on others for results, a common theme in team sports. Wolf also acknowledges, “there’s no better feeling than hitting a clean ball though,” something all tennis players can relate to.

Wolf keeps things simple. He has no ranking goals or win totals in mind for this upcoming year. His only short-term goal is to make “little jumps” in his game in order to reach his ceiling down the road. His ultimate goal. Wolf mentioned his fitness, movement, and diet as his main areas of focus right now.

As well as winning the title Sunday and reaching a career high ranking, Wolf secured a spot in the Australian Open qualifiers. He was very excited to learn he’d be starting the 2020 season Down Under. “I’m just getting my foot in the door. Won couple challenger titles…couple top 100 wins. I’m very happy overall with my 2019.”

Nitto ATP World Tour Finals

Novak Djokovic defeats Matteo Berrettini 6-2, 6-1

Djokovic came to London extremely motivated to take back the world number 1 ranking from Nadal, and came out firing in his first match. Djokovic dialed in from the start, had Berrettini out of sorts early and often, controlling points from the baseline after deep returns. Berrettini never had a chance in this one.

Storyline Stats:

Berrettini won just 47% of his first serve points & 33% of his second serve points.

Djokovic won 75% of his first serve points & a ridiculous 80% of his second serve points.

Dominic Thiem defeats Roger Federer 7-5,7-5

Thiem took it to Federer in straight sets, improving to 5-2 in their head to head matchup. Thiem was too good off the ground, keeping Federer off balanced and unable to move forward the majority of the match. Thiem sent a message at 5-5 in the second set when he broke Federer at love, playing insanely big and making Federer uncomfortable. Federer struggled with timing and his movement at certain points in the match.

Storyline Stat:

Federer hit 21 second serves and Thiem won 12 of those points. (52%)

Alexander Zverev defeats Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-4

The reigning champ seems to enjoy this event and the indoor court definitely suits his style of play. Within his first three serves of the match, Zverev had already cracked one 144MPH and rarely hit a serve slower than the mid 130’s all match. He was hitting Nadal off the court with his massive serve/forehand combination the entire match, taking Nadal’s time away, and giving him little room for error. The more spin Nadal put on defensive shots, the higher the ball sat up for Zverev, allowing him to push Nadal further back with his heavy strokes. Nadal had to battle throughout the match to hold serve.

Storyline Stats:

83-minute match. Nadal had 13 forehands errors & 3 winners. Zverev won 88% of his first serve points

Stefanos Tsitipas defeats Daniel Medvedev 7-6 (5), 6-4

Tsitipas played a dominant match from start to finish, especially on his serve in his first-round match. He didn’t allow Medvedev to gain any ground in his service games, and frustrated the world number four player for the majority of the hour and 42-minute affair. Tsitipas played a very tactical match and used deep defensive shots with very little pace to reset points against Medvedev, a successful strategy. Medvedev is not a player that likes to generate power himself. He is more of a counter puncher.

Storyline Stats:

Tsitsipas was 0-5 head to head vs Medvedev previously. Tsitipas allowed 0 break point opportunities & won 89% of his first serve points

Roger Federer defeats Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (2), 6-3

Federer regained his form in his second-round match and was really never threatened by the young Italian. Federer was back to his ways of dictating points and taking time away from his opponent as we have seen him do for two decades. He found a couple patterns to break down Berrettini’s backhand and movement and never let go of his stranglehold. Federer ultimately broke down Berrettini’s will to battle anymore, and finished him off easily in the second set.

Storyline Stat: 

Roger Federer won the year end event for the first time in 2003 (16 years ago)

Dominic Thiem defeats Novak Djokovic 5-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5 (5)

Arguably the most entertaining three set match of the year, this one felt like a heavyweight fight, with momentum swinging heavily in both directions. Fans watched in awe as Djokovic acted as a human backboard, chasing down Thiem’s pancaked forehands and backhands, hoping to draw an error. Thiem refused to let Djokovic gain the upper hand in exchanges.

Thiem was unleashing a flurry of backhands and forehands down the line early in rallies, applying pressure on Djokovic right away. He even managed to crack a backhand 102MPH for a winner. Thiem has now strung together two big wins on the fast indoor hard courts, a positive sign for the “clay court specialist.”

Storyline Stats:

Thiem was 4/4 on break point opportunities & hit 50 winners against Djokovic

Get to Know Team McNally

Coach Kevin O’Neill’s Background: O’Neill began playing tennis at the age of 6, when his family moved to Sacramento via Los Angeles. With good coaches and a passion for the game, he began to become a solid player over the next five years. He then moved to Napa and began training with Steve Stefanki (Larry’s older brother), and became one of the top junior players in Northern California, before heading east for college. After spending freshman year at Clemson University, O’Neill transferred to Pepperdine University to be closer to home and his coach for the remainder of his college career. (“And the school is gorgeous…located in Malibu.”)


Despite being a successful junior and college tennis player, O’Neill hadn’t ever thought about coaching as a potential career. He figured he would go to law school just like his twin sister and close friend had decided. It wasn’t until he decided to help a friend (in the mid 90’s) run a tennis club that he found coaching to be of interest. The club, located in The Hamptons, gave O’Neill the opportunity to reconnect with the tennis community once again. “It wasn’t too long before I had the chance to hit with Martina Navratilova while she was training for the Wimbledon doubles. She knew my coach Steve (Stefanki), but she also liked how I volleyed and did some things in practice.” She told O’Neill one day, “You ever think about coaching at the pro level?” And that’s when the wheels began to turn for him…that this could be something.


McNally Connection: O’Neill has known the McNally family for many years. The relationship stems from both parties having ties to Alexa Glatch (WTA player), whom both Lynn McNally (Caty’s mother) and O’Neill coached (still helps her). Lynn, who coached Glatch as a beginner, remained friends with the Glatch family long after they left Cincinnati. One day years later, during the fall season of 2006, Glatch and O’Neill were about to head to Canada/the Midwest for some tournaments and needed a place to train. The Glatch family reached out to the McNally’s about O’Neill and Alexa staying in Cincinnati and training at Harper’s Point and it “worked out great”, according to O’Neill. “I had known Lynn some…she was a good player in the juniors and in college at Northwestern. Caty was about four at the time…John was about seven. I remember taking the kids out trick or treating one time. That trip is how I got to know Lynn, Caty and the family.”

He began helping Lynn McNally coach Caty and her brother John full time a few years back after Wimbledon in 2016.


Nate Walroth: What did you see in the siblings that made you want to coach them?

Kevin O’Neill: John had a great track record as a junior. He lost maybe one match in the 16s. Caty (12) wasn’t at that level yet, but she had a great imagination. She benefited big time from growing up and having her older brother to hit against.


NW: Why/How did the relationship work well from the beginning with Lynn and Caty?

KO: We (Kevin & Lynn) agreed on our tennis philosophies…which style of play we like. Being dictative, trying to come forward. Mixing in some serve and volley. Coaching players to be all court, not one dimensional . A la…a guy like Roger Federer.”
O’Neill thought for a minute and then continued on why the relationship has flourished, “We see eye to eye not only as coaches….but from a moral and values place as well. That’s key to good relationships. Also, the relationship I had with Alexa likely helped gain trust from Lynn & Caty’s father John. We also like to do similar things for fun, our interests, and beliefs all pretty much aligned beautifully. It helps a lot to have that.

NW: Is there every any issues with there being two coaches?

KO: No, we are very similar. When you’re traveling as much as tennis players do, you need stability (to be successful). Caty may hear two voices but she gets one message. We’re on the same page. There’s really not anything drastically different from what I’ll say, or Lynn says.


NW: Was there ever a doubt that she could make it at the tour level?

KO: No. She had all the tools from an athletic standpoint. Caty played basketball and other sports which helped her development as an athlete. She was a big strong girl and you could see that at a fairly young age. She just had to keep making the natural progressions….keep the right perspective …and continue putting in the proper work in and I knew Lynn would keep her on task.


NW: What is the “right perspective”?

KO: Tennis is a game. Just like mini golf and other games we play for fun I tell Caty. It’s okay to get frustrated and testy sometimes, but you can’t just give up and not give a full effort. It’s a game, you compete, play and have fun. Win or lose you still have fun competing. That’s what I want her to take away from tennis. You play to win for sure, but being a professional athlete is one of the best jobs in the world….enjoy it..have fun with it and take in ALL the experiences.  


NW: What are the challenges coaching Caty?

KO: Coaching her is somewhat easy for me because she plays and sees the game how Lynn and I do. Taking time away from the opponent and moving forward. Make the court small for you and big for them…getting opponent out of position so you can get forward. It’s almost like coaching myself. It’s also easy for me because we have similar personalities. She loves to compete and get after it, but she stays calm and cool.


NW: What do you think of the culture around junior tennis? Rankings are always the big discussion.

KO: When you’re 12, 13, 14 especially….worry about having all the shots and competing the right way. Not your ranking. I would tell Caty that all the time and still do. Lynn does as well. Who cares about your ranking? You don’t own a ranking, YOU OWN YOUR GAME!

NW: How did Coco and Caty partner up for the US Open juniors?

KO: It was before the US Open juniors and we were looking for a good partner. I remember I said, “You should ask Coco. You guys would play very well together.” But I left it completely up to Caty. I wanted her to have the right partner though. One that played offensive like her. Coco physically did not look like a typical 14-year-old at the time. She was hitting shots that you don’t see juniors hit.

NW: Why have the two worked so well together?

KO: In doubles, the team that gets to the net first will win more times than not. Caty and Coco both play a downhill style of doubles. They want to get forward behind forehands and serves. And they enjoy each other. They have fun practicing together and playing together.

NW: How do you think they were able to capture the tours/fans attention so quickly?

KO: They smile on the court and enjoy each other’s company out there. Fans recognize and relate to that I think. Seeing them have fun out there…going for their shots. Showing their personalities.


NW: How do they enjoy doubles matches compared to singles matches?

KO: They seem to enjoy doubles as much or more than singles. In singles, you’re talking to yourself and going through things alone, but in doubles you have a partner to talk to. In some ways they might even enjoy doubles more. They can laugh and talk to each other throughout different situations on court and overcome those battles together.


NW: Favorite McCoco match?

KO: I think the US Open was pretty awesome. Especially on the outside courts. In the first round, it was packed out there. I was talking to the girls before the match in the warm up area…and came out a little late. It was 5 to 6 people deep, standing room only, and I couldn’t get in. Luckily, Coco’s parents and Lynn saved me a seat and I got in after a changeover. We left people tickets and they couldn’t even watch. They had to go to a nearby bar that had a TV to watch. The second match was awesome too. They moved them to Louis Armstrong and it ended up being the largest crowd in WTA history for doubles.

NW: A piece of advice you often give Caty…

KO: I always tell Caty…when you’re playing singles….talk to yourself like you would talk to Coco. Be your own doubles partner. You wouldn’t say those nasty things to her…don’t say them to yourself either.
Having fun is the thing.Playing the wrong way and wining is dangerous. It tells your brain “maybe I should play like that again.”


McCoco History:

1st match: Eastbourne (friendly)

1st tournament: US Open juniors (Champs)

1st WTA tournament: Washington DC (Champs)

Recently won a title together in Luxembourg 

🏆

Mastering Overheads

KO: They are very important in singles and doubles. Caty has them all. She can change directions, slice off court, scissor kick, and she’s learning to use the skyhook overhead. (“Connors used to do back in the 70’s when he was in trouble and couldn’t hit the overhead.”) We actually worked on that shot with Coco and Caty during practice a couple weeks ago in Europe. Instead of letting a tough lob bounce behind you, reach back behind yourself and hit it….to keep the opponent back. If you watch girls, you’ll notice that they won’t come forward if you take the ball out of the air. I want them to have that shot to stay on the attack or at least hold there ground. It was fun to see Coco do one in their doubles match and it worked….kept them at the net and the other team stayed on the baseline.  And then Caty did one and they hadn’t ever used it before. Being willing to try stuff can expand your game.

NW: How do you teach them to become comfortable hitting those type of shots above their shoulder that most girls aren’t?

KO: The easiest way to teach someone how to serve in my opinion is to teach them how to throw. Girls don’t do it much, but if they learn how to throw…they’ll eventually have a good service and overhead motion. 

NW: Do you understand the stigma around tennis that seems to insinuate players must focus on either doubles or singles?

KO: No. Why not play both? Doubles gives you a chance to get better as a player and also at the same time make a living. I don’t get why you have to pick doubles or singles. You play both to become the most complete player.  If you want to be a really good, complete tennis player….you have to know how to do both. It’s going to help you in the long run to be more comfortable in different situations too. Because you’ve come through in doubles and you know those feelings that come with it. You’ll be more relaxed. No coach can duplicate a match situation. It’s the same court (little bigger), balls, and shots as singles. I don’t see the downside. You might have times where you are having a lot of success in singles or been on the road for four, five weeks and want some rest, but other than that…we play.

NW: Do you guys practice doubles much?

KO: Yes, but even when we’re practicing doubles…we’re practicing the same shots as singles. Those shots are all necessary to have!!!

NW: It’s crazy how much success they’ve both had this early in their careers (singles & doubles). Have you made any comments to them about it?

KO: Yeah. I actually told them the other day after a practice, “You guys could do this for the next 15-20 years of your life.”  Be ready…

Djokovic looks sharp in Paris 🏆

As wild as it may sound, Sunday’s Rolex Masters final was the last Masters 1000 finals of the decade. Novak Djokovic played some of the best tennis you’ll ever see the last three days in Paris. He defeated Grigor Dimintrov, Stefanos Tsitsipas (7), & Denis Shapovalov, respectively, to win his fifth title of the year. Djokovic looked like his old self, regaining form from the baseline and using his world class movement and flexibility. He picked opponents apart with precision on his serve and was able to generate plenty of short balls. Djokovic was also locked in on returns and applied a ton of pressure on servers. He was aggressive with returns on second serves and had some incredible redirection returns off firsts as well. His offense came easy off the ground and he was able to measure shots near the baseline consistently.

While it looked like an intriguing matchup on paper, Djokovic dismantled Tsitsipas in the quarterfinals. He took time away from the 20-year-old and kept him on the defensive for the 58 minute ordeal.

In the semifinals, he faced Grigor Dimitrov who had a great run in Paris and was playing at a very high level. Dimitrov had a couple of huge, straight set wins over David Goffin (12) and Dominic Thiem (5), and then gave Djokovic his toughest match of the tournament.

The finals saw much of the same from Djokovic. He came out focused, serving well, and let Shapovalov make the errors. He also did not give Shapovalov many opportunities in his service games, allowing only one break-point chance. Conversely, Djokovic won 14/17 (82%) second serve return points against the southpaw.

Novak now finds himself sandwiched between the Big 3 heading into the ATP Finals (Nov. 9). Healthy and playing incredible tennis, his goal is clearly to win all his matches in London to end the year as the World No. 1. He trails Nadal by just 640 points after claiming the title in Paris. “It puts me in a better position after this week. But again, I have to keep on winning. There’s a chance that I win all my matches in London, that I play well. I have done it my past,” Djokovic told ATP.com. 


Crazy Stat: the Big 3 will start the 2020 season inside the Top 3 just like they ended the 2010 season

(*Nadal was forced to pull out of Paris with an injury and there’s some doubt whether or he’ll be healthy for the ATP Finals.*)