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Stop looking for Fabio!

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TENNIS – It isn’t every day that a player defeats a seeded opponent in under an hour only to find himself a mere footnote in the narrative. It happened to Nadal who coasted past Fognini 6-2, 6-2 as the Italian’s umpteenth meltdown against top opposition saw him shank his way to losing 11 of the match’s first 12 points. Edoardo Dalmonte

 

It isn’t every day that a player defeats a seeded opponent in under an hour to book his place in the quarter finals of a Masters tournament, only to find himself a mere footnote in the narrative.

 

It took Rafa Nadal the better part of an hour to coast past Fabio Fognini (6-2 6-2), as the Italian’s umpteenth meltdown against top opposition saw him shank his way to losing 11 of the match’s first 12 points, going 3-0 down within minutes and all but surrendering the set.

 

The whole encounter was nothing but a collection of horrendous shot selection, minor tantrums and embarrassing stat lines for the Italian No.1, who was unable to conquer a single point on Nadal’s serve in the first set. A severe disappointment for a player who had come close to defeating the current No. 2 last year in China, and who still has to get over the hump against top five opponents, against whom he has never won a match.

 

Yet there was worst to come: not only did the encounter offer few clues regarding Nadal’s current form (though he has won six sets out of six so far in Key Biscayne, his opponents so far have hardly played vintage tennis), but it also provided ammo aplenty to those looking to do a hatchet job on Fognini because of his character issues.

 

As the mental errors piled up for the Italian, the ether exploded with outrage: not only was Fabio reacting with far too much irritation at his mistakes, he was also being accused of mailing it in. Let that one sink in just a little: a pro athlete quitting on one of the most important tournaments of the season just because he kept on shanking shots. Not a frustrated tennis player who has been unable to keep a lid on the pressure that has accompanied him since an early age (a big chunk of it self-imposed) and is hugely peeved at his inability to master shots he could normally make with his eyes closes. Not at all: just a spoilt player with the gall to overreact to his own laziness.

 

There is little doubt that Fabio Fognini still needs to mature – who can forget how he was admonished by Mohamed Lahyani in his third round win over Bautista-Agut (“you know what you said”), or indeed his purposeful foot-foul last year in Cincinnati. What is peeving, however, is when these red flags are nonsensically conflated with a supposed lack of drive and, more importantly, results.

 

The trouble with Fognini is that he has no manners. He is so rude. Of course he never wins anything”. These words weren’t uttered yesterday, mind you, but came after a similarly poor performance in the first set of last year’s third round tie against David Ferrer right here in Key Biscayne. Nor were they uttered by an inebriated fan, either, but by someone who supposedly earns a living covering sport.

 

Do nice guys truly win more? Is there a direct correlation between kindness and Slams won? Or is it just like one of Brad Pitt’s better quips in Moneyball, when he berates his scouts for mistaking certain attributes (size, good looks, even an affable personality) with evidence of talent (“It’s like we’re looking for Fabio!”)?. Just like your baseball player doesn’t need to be a halfway house between Hercules and Prince William in order to pitch a perfect game, so your perfect can fall short of perfection, easily win the “Prix Citron” (as numerous Grand Slam winners have, along with Marcelo Rios) and still fill his trophy cabinet.

 

It is perfectly acceptable to find the world No. 14 irritating –though a tad unrealistic considering how much these perfectionist players have dedicated to an imperfect sport, and how they react when things go wrong – but preposterous to assume that foul-mouthed, gesticulating players (McEnroe, anyone?) don’t win.

 

As it turns out, my colleague’s statement was far from prescient, as it prefaced a good second set performance by Fognini (who still fell 6-1 7-5), and what can be considered a rampage, at least by his standards: a semi-final in Montecarlo (a career-best Masters result) being followed by a brave loss to Nadal on Philippe Chatrier and climaxing in a near-hat trick of trophies in Stuttgart, Hamburg and Umag. Not bad for somebody presumably unable to keep up appearances at Downton Abbey (though Lord knows that would be smashing fun), or keep alive a partly mythologised vision of tennis as a gentlemen’s sport. Tennis would be so much more boring if all the nice guys took home the crown jewels all the time. I bet we’d be pining for the second coming of Marcelo Rios before long.

 

Moreover, Fognini’s worst outbursts (the foot fault, his verbal joust with an Argentine heckler, his recent warning) all came after his sudden ascent. Correlation, of course, does not imply causation: rather than being an obstacle, his anger turned out to be an admittedly unideal way of dealing with the increased pressure. Having slowed down last autumn, Fognini began 2014 with a career-best fourth round in Australia (where he’d only ever jumped the first hurdle once) and another fourth at the BNP Paribas Open, as well as a trophy at the Chile Open (the first Italian to win there) and a final in Buenos Aires.

 

Excessively tense ? Definitely. Worryingly happy to talk to himself at all times? Perhaps (his father attributed this to a paralyzing, yet not immediately apparent shyness). But by no means unusual, or for that doomed for fail. Maybe it is best if we appreciate a man who emerged first as a face-pulling, satanic-looking cult figure, and only afterwards as a potential giant killer. Who knows what awaits down the line…

By Edoardo Dalmonte

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Alexander Zverev Powers Past Erratic Nadal To Set Thiem Showdown

Alexander Zverev secured his best win of his career on a clay court by beating Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

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Alexander Zverev (@ATPTour_ES - Twitter)

Alexander Zverev powered past an erratic Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.

 

After a slow start Zverev produced some stunning tennis to knock out the five-time champion Nadal, who had an error-prone day at the office.

The German will now play Dominic Thiem in the last four in a rematch from the 2018 final.

It was the 20-time grand slam champion who started off the fastest as he looked to target the Zverev forehand early with uncomfortable spins and heights.

Eventually Nadal would get his rewards for an accurate tactical game-plan as a Zverev double fault handed him the break.

However that advantage was to be short-lived as the first point of the seventh game would change the momentum of the match with Nadal putting in simple unforced errors especially on the forehand side.

The German took advantage as he used his backhand to dictate points from the baseline. Furthermore, Zverev used his superior net play to his advantage by shortening the points and creating a faster tempo.

An unusual first set from Nadal’s perspective was complete as the fifth seed reeled off four games in a row to seal the opening set 6-4.

At the start of the second set, the Spaniard tried to up his level and intensity as he used some drop-shots at unexpected moments and attempted to bring the crowd into the match.

Despite this Nadal’s return game was lacking its usual ferocity as he couldn’t capitalise on Zverev’s second serves.

There was a lack of confidence in the Spaniard when implementing effective patterns of play as Zverev had a lot of success dictating play and winning the baseline and net rallies.

Another break in the fifth game ensured that Zverev’s dominance was being rewarded.

Although a double break advantage was denied, Nadal couldn’t deny victory for Zverev as the German sealed his first clay court victory over the ‘King of Clay.’

After the match Zverev admitted it was one of the biggest wins of his career, “Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far, especially on clay against Rafa. It is the toughest thing to do in our sport,” Zverev said in an on-court interview.

“Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible but the tournament is not over yet.”

Lots to ponder for Nadal as an error-prone performance sees him looking to improve in Rome next week.

As for the German, he sets up a 2018 final rematch with Dominic Thiem in the last four as he secured his best victory on this surface of his career.

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Dominic Them reaches semifinal in Madrid after three-set battle with Isner

Dominic Thiem is into the Madrid semi-finals after an impressive three set win over John Isner.

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Dominic Thiem (@atptour - Twitter)

The Austrian booked his spot in the semifinals after coming back to beat the American in three sets.

 

Dominic Thiem needed one hour and 55 minutes to beat the world number 39 John Isner in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 hitting 20 winners in the win while his opponent hit 26 unforced errors.

“We all know that he is one of the best servers in history and this altitude in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve but I was a little bit surprised by his return games, I think he attacked both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it and I think the match changed when I saved those three breakpoints in the second set”.

It was the American who got off to the faster start holding his opening service game and then going on the offensive earning a breakpoint the following game and taking an early 2-0 lead.

The Greensboro, North Carolina native had a chance to go up a double break but the world number four saved both breakpoints he faced and managed to hold his first service game of the match.

That break was enough for the American to serve out the first set and he was one set away from the semifinals.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Dallas, Texas resident had four breakpoints but failed to convert and the match was starting to turn with the American looking gassed.

In the next game the Austrian had three breakpoint and converted for his first break of the match as he served out the second set to send it to a deciding third set.

Isner was put under pressure early in the third set facing a breakpoint in the first game of the set but managed to save it and hold serve and it stayed on serve until 4-4.

That’s when the world number four earned two chances to break and on the second time of asking he would break and served out the match to book a date with either Alexander Zverev or Rafael Nadal.

After his match in an on court interview he gave this thoughts on a potential matchup with either Nadal or Zverev.

“It’s going to be a good one, I’ve played two big matches here against Rafa ( Nadal) and one big match against Sascha ( Zverev), and against either one of them it’s going to be an incredible challenge and it’s going to be exciting tomorrow”.

With the loss today by Isner when the new rankings come out on Monday it will be the first time in the open era and since the rankings came out that an American will not feature in the top 30 players in the world.

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Past Cancellation Of Clay Events ‘Double Motivation’ For Norway’s Casper Ruud

The 22-year-old is on a roll after scoring his biggest win yet over Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open.

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Last year’s decision to scrap a series of clay events due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow to the world of tennis but at the same time a blessing in disguise for Casper Ruud.

 

The world No.22 is enjoying a surge in his form on the Tour after reaching back-to-back semi-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters and Munich Open. Furthermore, this week at the Madrid Open Ruud achieved the biggest win of his career on Thursday after stunning Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(4), 6-4. Registering his first ever win over a top five player on the Tour. He is yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Ruud partly credits his success on the clay to events that happened 12 months ago when he was unable to play on his favourite surface due to the pandemic. The French Open did take place but later in the year where he reached the third round.

“It was a part of the season last year that I was looking extremely forward to. I felt it was taken a bit away from not me but all the players when everything got postponed, some of the tournaments were cancelled,” Ruud said after his win over Tsitsipas.
“I think I just kept my motivation for a year and have double the motivation to be here this year luckily.’
“This (Madrid) was one of the tournaments that we didn’t get to play last year. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get.”

Growing up, the youngster trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy and says his time there has shaped how he plays today. Toni Nadal, who is the former mentor of Rafael Nadal, remains ‘involved’ in his tennis. Although the 60-year-old is now switching his focus to working with Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pedro Clar, who he met at the academy, is still a member of his team.

“Pedro Clar is the one that travels more often with me. We have a very good relationship. He’s here (in Madrid) this week,” said Ruud.
“He’s been with me at some of my biggest tournaments and wins. When I won my first tournament in Buenos Aires, my first semifinal in Rome last year, Pedro was with me. I think it’s helped me a lot.’
“Also getting help from Toni. Now Toni is helping Felix more personally. But he’s always involved with my tennis at some point in my career. Also Rafa, of course, he helped me a lot the last years.”

The next test for Ruud in Madrid will be Alexander Bublik who he beat in three sets in their only previous meeting back in 2019. Should he win again, the world No.22 would be through to his third consecutive Masters semi-final on the clay after Rome (2020) and Monte Carlo.

At the age of 22, Ruud has already become the highest ranked Norwegian player in ATP Tour history. Coincidentally the record was previously held by his father Christian who now his head coach. Following his latest win, he is set to break into the world’s top 20 for the first time on Monday.

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