The third event of South America's "Golden Swing" gets underway this week, and while Carnival might be coming to a close, the party was just beginning for the players in action at the Rio Open presented by Claro in Brazil.
Before they took to the court, some of the ATP World Tour's top players took in the sights and sounds of Brazil's "Marvelous City."
The top-seeded Cilic, who will be playing for the first time in Rio, climbed to the top of the 30-meter tall "Christ the Redeemer" statue that overlooks Rio. The world No. 3 found the experience both enthralling and spiritual.
"Just getting to the feet of 'Christ the Redeemer' wasn't easy," Cilic said. "It was windy and the machine that took us up there was swaying. Even when we were inside the statue it wasn’t easy to climb; the stairway was narrow and quite steep. But up there at the top, it was an incredible feeling. It's an overcast day; the few moments it wasn't cloudy, I enjoyed it. My legs are still shaking and my heart is beating faster than usual. I'm also quite religious so that's just one more thing that made this so special."
Later that day, Cilic joined Fabio Fognini and doubles duo Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in the Carnival Champions parade, a public procession that celebrates the city’s samba schools and the music’s roots.
Fognini, the tournament’s fifth seed, had a good time, even if he had trouble keeping with the rhythm. "I 'tried' to dance," Fognini said. "I was sweating a lot. It's tough to describe because it was so unique."
Melo, a quarter-finalist at last year's event and a finalist at the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals alongside Kubot, was still thankful to take part in the parade. "It was fantastic, so amazing," the Brazilian said. "I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to do this."
Kubot, his teammate, agreed: "This is unbelievable, unreal. This is a great atmosphere, and I'm so thankful to be here."
Sock headed to Auckland still feeling tired from his unpredictable end to 2017. The 25-year-old won the Rolex Paris Masters title and climbed 16 places in the ATP Race To London – from 24th to eighth – to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in London for the first time.
But the later end to his season – late November instead of early October/early November – threw off Sock's schedule. He flew to New Zealand without his usual off-season training, and it showed on the court. Sock won just one set during his two matches at the ASB Classic and the Australian Open.
“I went down to Australia with not as much confidence in my physical part. The year prior I ended with a month and a half training straight, felt really strong and mentally fresh. This year was kind of the opposite. Didn’t feel as great physically. Mentally, I was still a little tired,” Sock said. “No excuses at all for my part, just a different feel.”
After his trip Down Under, however, Sock trained for a month straight and is feeling fit to defend his Delray Beach Open title this week.
“I look different. I feel different in my head. I’m excited to get my season started now and leave January behind me,” Sock said.
The lessons learned are to be expected for Sock, who spent much of last season in new territory. The No. 1 American had the best season of his career, winning three titles – Auckland, Delray Beach and Paris. Before 2017, he had captured only one ATP World Tour crown – 2015 Houston.
He also posted his best performance at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments, making the BNP Paribas semi-finals in March (l. Federer) before winning Paris in November (d. Krajinovic). Sock cracked the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings as well.
“It was a blessing to play London and to have won Paris,” he said.
But the whirlwind year has also changed how Sock and his team look at his schedule. In 2017, the right-hander played Top 5 tennis in the beginning and end of the year. But he struggled in the middle, going 8-11 from May to mid-October. Fatigue was partly to blame, said Mike Wolf, who's been a part of Sock's coaching team since he was 10.
From late March to early May, Sock flew from Miami to Australia (Davis Cup) to Houston and then to Europe for the clay-court swing. It was all maybe too much for the American, who had finished 2016 playing 33 matches in 33 days.
“He just wasn't in a good place because he played a ton of tennis at the end of  and worked really hard in the off-season,” Wolf told ATPWorldTour.com. “You just cannot be at tournaments or be at the practice courts and not be ready to give your full effort.”
This season, Wolf and Sock's team have already adjusted the American's schedule to avoid a prolonged dip. Sock, a Davis Cup regular, skipped the U.S.' first-round match against Serbia earlier this month.
“I know it’s going to be a long year. Starting in Delray I have a seven-week trip coming up... I need to pick and choose the right time to play based on my mental state, my physical state,” Sock said.
The World No. 8 is the top seed in a stacked Delray Beach Open draw, which features five former champions: Sock, Juan Martin del Potro (2011), Kevin Anderson (2012), Sam Querrey (2016) and Ivo Karlovic (2015). Sock received a walkover during last year's final against Milos Raonic, who's also seeded this week.
But the past is the past to Sock, who's feeling better than he has in months, and is hoping that shows on the court this week. “[I] hope I can play and the way I want to play, starting in Delray and the for the rest of the year and leave January behind me,” he said.
The frenetic month of February continues with another trio of tournaments. The second ATP World Tour 500 event of the year takes place at the Rio Open presented by Claro, while the Open 13 Provence returns to Marseille and the Delray Beach Open celebrates its 26th edition.
10 THINGS TO WATCH IN RIO DE JANEIRO
(1) What A Week: Twenty-two of the Top 32 players on the ATP World Tour will compete this week in Rio de Janeiro, Delray Beach or Marseille. Leading the way at the Rio Open presented by Claro are defending champion Dominic Thiem and Australian Open and Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic.
(2) No. 3 And Rising: Only Roger Federer stopped Cilic from claiming two of the past three Grand Slam titles. Despite falling to Federer in the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals, the Croat is at a career-high No. 3 ATP Ranking entering the Rio Open. Cilic will make his tournament debut as the No. 1 seed. The 29-year-old is seeking an ATP World Tour championship for the 11th straight season.
(3) Feet Of Clay: Thiem swept all 10 sets he played at the 2017 Rio Open en route to the second ATP World Tour 500 title of his career. He went 24-5 on clay and 25-22 on other surfaces last season. The World No. 6 is one of two men to beat the Big Four of Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray on clay courts. Three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka is the other.
(4) Spanish Armada: Thiem defeated Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the 2017 Rio Open semi-finals and Pablo Carreno Busta in the final. The Spaniards return this week as the No. 4 and No. 3 seeds respectively. Ramos-Vinolas began the ATP’s Golden Swing by advancing to the Quito final.
(5) Fognini Returns: Like Ramos-Vinolas and Carreno Busta, Fabio Fognini will have appeared at all five editions of the Rio Open. The Italian upset Nadal to reach the 2015 final, which he lost to another Spaniard David Ferrer. Fognini has played in at least two finals each season since 2012.
(6) Schwartzman’s Surge: South America produced one of the ATP World Tour’s most improved players of 2017 in Diego Schwartzman. The 5’7” Argentine earned a new career-high ranking nine times, reached 11 quarter-finals or better, and enjoyed a career-best 39 wins last season.
(7) Melbourne Magic: Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren will make his Rio Open debut after defeating Wawrinka and Thiem in Melbourne as the World No. 97. Sandgren became the lowest-ranked Australian Open quarter-finalist since then-No. 105 Mikael Tillstrom in 1996.
(8) Two-Time Champion:Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay upset Nadal en route to the 2016 Rio Open singles title, then teamed with Carreno Busta to capture the 2017 Rio Open doubles title. Cuevas will defend his doubles crown with Carreno Busta and seek his seventh ATP singles title this week.
(9) Wild Cards:Brazilians Thomaz Bellucci and Thiago Monteiro received wild cards along with #NextGenATP player Casper Ruud of Norway. At the 2017 Rio Open, Ruud earned the first three victories of his career before squandering a match point against Carreno Busta in the semi-finals.
(10) Homegrown Hopes:Marcelo Melo of Brazil and co-World No. 1 Lukasz Kubot of Poland headline the doubles field. They are joined in the draw by Bruno Soares of Brazil and Jamie Murray of Great Britain. A Brazilian has never won the singles or doubles title at the Rio Open.
(2) Title Town: Sock’s run to the 2017 Delray Beach Open title was 12 years in the making. Playing at the same venue as a junior, Sock swept singles and doubles titles at the 2005 USTA Boys’ 12s National Spring Championships and the 2009 USTA Boys’ 18s National Clay Court Championships. Then, he won his first ATP title in doubles alongside James Blake at the 2013 Delray Beach Open.
(3) Anderson Eyes Back-To-Back Titles:On Sunday, Anderson lifted his fourth ATP World Tour trophy at the inaugural New York Open, defeating Querrey in a thrilling encounter that was decided in a third-set tie-break. Now, the big-hitting South African is eyeing his second triumph in as many weeks. Seeded third, he opens against Evgeny Donskoy.
(4) Snowbirds United:Raonic and 18-year-old countryman Denis Shapovalov open their campaigns on Tuesday on Canada Day in Delray Beach. Shapovalov burst onto the scene at Montreal last August by becoming the youngest ATP Masters 1000 semi-finalist in the 28-year history of the series.
(5) Delpo In Delray:Returning to Delray Beach is Del Potro, who won his first eight matches and 16 sets at the event before semi-final losses in 2016 and 2017. The Argentine was No.1,042 in the ATP Rankings at the 2016 Delray Beach Open, following his fourth wrist surgery. He rose 1,000 spots to No. 42 ahead of the 2017 Delray Beach Open. Del Potro broke back into the Top 10 on 15 January 2018.
(6) Homecoming Kev:Anderson returns to Delray Beach for a ninth straight year. The Palm Beach County resident won the 2012 title and reached the 2014 final, but he has lost his past three matches in Delray. Anderson defeated Querrey en route to his first Grand Slam final at the 2017 US Open.
(7) Norrie Lucky Loser:When Australian No. 1 Nick Kyrgios was forced to withdraw with an elbow injury ahead of the tournament, lucky loser Cameron Norrie was awarded a lucky loser entry into the main draw. The Brit is making his ATP World Tour hard-court debut after an electric 2017 campaign that saw him win three ATP Challenger Tour titles and rise to a career-high of No. 110 in the ATP Rankings. He could crack the Top 100 with a strong showing in Delray Beach.
(8) No Qualifying Needed:Also making his main draw debut in Delray Beach is 21-year-old Hyeon Chung, who lost in qualifying one year ago. After ending 2017 as the Next Gen ATP Finals champion, Chung defeated Djokovic en route to the Australian Open semi-finals last month.
(9) Red, White And Blue: All Top 5 and nine of the Top 10 Americans are in the Delray Beach draw, including #NextGenATP players Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe. Also in the field are three-time semi-finalist John Isner and 2015 finalist Donald Young, who have combined for one win in 2018.
(10) Bros Are Back:Four-time doubles champions and six-time finalists Bob and Mike Bryan will make their 11th appearance at the Delray Beach Open. Despite winning two of their record 114 titles in 2017, the American twins finished a season outside of the Top 10 for the first time since 2001.
(2) Goffin The Great:Goffin ended the 2017 season as one of the hottest players on the ATP World Tour. He won 25 of his last 33 matches with back-to-back titles at Shenzhen and Tokyo, then victories over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the Nitto ATP Finals. Goffin became the first Belgian to break into the Top 10, qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals and defeat a World No. 1 player.
(3) Wawrinka’s Recovery:After undergoing two left knee surgeries in August, Wawrinka returned last month at the Australian Open with a first-round win over Ricardas Berankis. Following a semi-final run at Sofia and an opening-round loss at Rotterdam, Wawrinka enters Marseille at 3-3 on the year. The Swiss is also 3-3 lifetime at the Open 13 Provence, never advancing past the quarter-finals.
(4) Best Of France: Since their meeting in the 2017 Marseille final, Pouille has passed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the ATP Rankings and emerged as the No. 1 Frenchman. Pouille defeated Tsonga, Benoit Paire and Richard Gasquet en route to the Montpellier championship two weeks ago.
(5) The Champs Are Here:Joining Pouille this week are Davis Cup teammates Julien Benneteau, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Nicolas Mahut and Gilles Simon. After capturing his first ATP title at 2007 Marseille, Simon won the event again in 2015. He is making his 12th Marseille appearance.
(6) Czech Is Balanced: Few players on the ATP World Tour are as consistent as 2013 Marseille finalist Tomas Berdych. Last month, the Czech reached the Australian Open quarter-finals for the seventh time in eight years. He has been ranked in the Top 20 each week since 15 March 2010.
(7) Much Improved:Bosnian Damir Dzumhur is seeded following a sensational 2017 season. Dzumhur ended the year on a 24-7 run, highlighted by his first two ATP World Tour titles at St. Petersburg and Moscow. He upset then-No. 3 Wawrinka at Dubai for the biggest win of his career.
(8) Fond Memories:Filip Krajinovic returns to France this week for the first time since his run to the ATP Masters 1000 Paris final last fall. Ranked 77th at the time, the Serbian qualified and became the lowest-ranked ATP Masters 1000 finalist since then-No. 98 Mardy Fish at 2008 Indian Wells.
(9) Born In 2000: Seventeen-year-olds Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Hugo Gaston of France received wild cards. Auger-Aliassime made his ATP World Tour debut last week at Rotterdam, while Gaston debuts this week after capturing the Australian Open junior doubles title.
(10) Familiar Face:Two-time doubles champion Edouard Roger-Vasselin of France returns to Marseille alongside Rohan Bopanna of India. Roger-Vasselin won the Open 13 Provence title in 2012 with Mahut and in 2014 with Benneteau. He has not played doubles at Marseille since then.
It has been a long time coming for Kevin Anderson. The South African had not won a title since 2015 Winston-Salem, and a slew of injuries forced his ATP Ranking down to as low as No. 80 last January.
But five months after advancing to his first Grand Slam final at the US Open, Anderson added a fourth tour-level title to his collection, defeating second seed Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(1) to win the inaugural New York Open on Sunday.
"Tennis is a tough sport. You play three, four, five matches sometimes to get to the final and if it doesn’t go your way, it’s pretty tough to deal with even though you’ve had a great week,” Anderson said. "I’ve been to quite a few finals. It really means a lot to me to get through today.”
Thanks to his performance this week, the 31-year-old will move to a career-best No. 9 in the ATP Rankings on Monday. The inaugural final in New York was the first ATP World Tour championship match to go to a deciding tie-break since The Queen’s Club Championships last year (Lopez d. Cilic).
If there was any time Anderson would show his nerves having lost his past three tour-level finals (2017 Washington, 2017 US Open, 2018 Pune), it would have been in the third-set tie-break — his third of the week. But the right-hander won the first six points of the tie-break and took his second match point with a stunning forehand passing shot.
"One of the big goals I had for this year was to try to be a bit more successful in that final stage," Anderson said. "It feels great to come through and get today’s win. It gives me a lot of confidence for the year."
Anderson, who needed three sets in all four of his matches in New York, earns 250 ATP Rankings points and $119,250. Querrey takes home 150 points and $62,805 for his runner-up finish.
It was an atypical final for two of the biggest servers on the ATP World Tour. Querrey entered the match having been broken just once in the tournament, while Anderson had lost his serve only three times. But each player broke three times in the first two sets alone to send the final to a decider. The final set went closer to the expected script, with each player holding serve throughout to force the tie-break, in which the South African was the steadier player.
"[It was] a couple points here and there," Querrey said. "The way he plays it doesn’t let you play that much because he goes so much, so you don’t really get that comfortable out there. But it could have gone either way."
Anderson, who hit 16 aces in the match, knotted the pair's FedEx ATP Head2Headseries at 8-8. It was their first meeting in a final since their first match at 2008 Las Vegas, where Querrey won the first of his 10 ATP World Tour titles.
Did You Know?
Anderson has previously spent a single week in the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings, in October 2015. He will climb to a career-best No. 9 on Monday.
If you are wondering what music Roger Federer — who will rise back to No. 1 in the ATP Rankings on Monday — listens to before a match, we may finally have the answer.
The 36-year-old, who defeated Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 at the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament to win his 97th tour-level title, addressed the topic of music in his post-match press conference. The Swiss discussed Dutch DJ Afrojack's performance in the pre-final entertainment show.
"It was cool,” said Federer. “I couldn't watch it all because I was getting ready, but we walked past him [Afrojack]. It seemed the crowds enjoyed it. They have a lot of great DJ's here in this country and I like that fact that sometimes there is a little side situation going on to tennis... It was refreshing to see, I actually think it was a nice idea.”
After Federer addressed the state of the Dutch DJ scene, the three-time Rotterdam champion took a moment to reflect on his early connections to the musical form.
“I like DJ's,” confirmed Federer. “I came through the time in the 90's where I listened to a lot of DJ music.”
Federer also recalled his favourite artists from when he was a junior through his early years as a professional, with special mentions to those who have influenced his musical taste.
“The first music I really enjoyed was Queen, Michael Jackson and Roxette,” revealed Federer. “When I was going to the junior events with my parents, you listen to what your parents put on the cassette in the car. Then, later on, it was all the DJ's coming up and then it was rock, through Peter Lundgren, my coach, who did all the AC/DC and Metallica and all that stuff. Now I just go with the flow.”