A season of red clay to start, who to watch? - UBITENNIS
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A season of red clay to start, who to watch?

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TENNIS – Will Rafael Nadal be once again the only man under the spotlight for the full length of this 2014 season of red clay ? With only five losses in the past four seasons, it is very unlikely to see the Spaniard suddenly lose his crown, but Novak Djokovic will not stay on the side watching. Giulio Gasparin

Will Rafael Nadal be once again the only man under the spotlight for the full length of this 2014 clay season?

With only five losses in the past four seasons, it is very unlikely to see the Spaniard suddenly lose his crown, but Novak Djokovic will not stay on the side watching.

The Serbian is looking for his only missing Grand Slam title in Paris, where he reached the final only once in 2012, when he lost to Nadal in four sets.

The rivalry between the world number one and two is very likely to dominate the scene of the European clay season for a series of reasons.

First of all, Nadal has lost on the red clay only to one top 10 player in the past four years: Djokovic, including the latest loss in Monte Carlo, the “second home” for the champion of Manacor.

Secondly, as already mentioned, the world number two is surely looking forward to finally complete his career Grand Slam and he knows he probably is the only one capable of stopping Nadal on the courts of Roland Garros –like showed last year, when the eventual champion needed a 9-7 fifth set struggle to beat him.

Another reason why tennis fans should aspect a clear dominance of the world’s top two lays in the fact that the rest of the usual slam contenders and outsiders is clearly a whole step behind them on the red clay.

The group on the chase is clearly led by world number three and Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka.

The Swiss is however called to face a hard task stepping on the courts of a slam with a whole new amount of attention derived from the Australian success.

Wawrinka is, anyway, a player grown up on the often slow clay of the Alps and in the past has shown great skills on the red dirt. He is likely to go deep into the draws, also thanks to his high seeding, but it is very unlikely to see him pulling a major upset.

The most famous of his compatriots, Roger Federer, has demonstrated that he is still alive and that he wants to be a slam contender again, but the more aggressive tennis that is helping him back is surely not suitable for clay.

The 17 times slam champion has won only once the Roland Garros and it was in 2009, the only time in recent years that Nadal did not raise the trophy, nor reached the final, and it is quite clear that his game has never been apt for the red.

Similarly to Wawrinka, one would expect him to go deep into the draws and it is not impossible for him to win Madrid, where the clay is faster than most hard courts, but in Paris his target would be to reach a semi-final.

Last year’s Roland Garros finalist David Ferrer is unlikely to repeat his exploit, but the Spanish grinder is one of those players that you simply know will fight heart and soul for every point, every game, every tournament.

He has not had the best of the starts this season, but he collected a title on the clay of Buenos Aires and he surely will be one of the most consistent players during the clay swing.

Among the players that are expected to shine during the next weeks, Italian Fabio Fognini is clearly the most discussed.

After winning back to back events in Stuttgart and Hamburg in the summer of 2013, the Italian has started a new chapter of his career and is looking eager to enter the top 10, 35 years after the last Italian who did it, Corrado Barazzutti.

His recent win over Andy Murray in Davis Cup showed he is ready to take his career another step ahead, but even if he can manage to control his temper, it is hard to imagine the Italian challenging Nadal and Djokovic.

With a title in Vina del Mar and a final in Buenos Aires, he has already tested his clay skills in this season and he is expected to upset most of the players between five and ten in the world.

Despite having reached at least one semi-final each in the past at Roland Garros, Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych are the names to keep an eye on when in search for a possible upset.

John Isner remains the top 10 player with the poorest record on European clay and has never passed the round 3 in Paris. It is hard to imagine he can do any worse, but probably any better as well.

The duo of young up and coming talents, Dimitrov-Dolgopolov has never expressed a great game on clay, but they are both playing their career best tennis and it will be interesting to see how they will adapt to the red.

A different case applies to Ernest Gulbis, that ever since his heart breaking loss to Nadal in Rome last year, when he came extremely close to a fantastic win, has never expressed any similar level on clay.

His extravagant tennis and moody attitude, as usual, will make him the most unpredictable of the top players.

One last name needs to be drawn to attention, young Argentine Federico Delbonis is improving a lot and by reaching the final of Hamburg last summer, he has already demonstrated how competitive he can be on the dirt. This year he has taken the title on the clay of Sao Paolo and he could easily be the unseeded player that everyone would like to avoid.

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Hubert Hurkacz Undergoes ‘Knee Procedure’ Ahead of Olympic Bid

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Poland’s top player on the ATP Tour is not giving up on his dream of winning a medal at the Olympic Games despite recently undergoing a medical procedure.

World No.7 Hubert Hurkacz suffered a knee injury during his second round clash at Wimbledon against France’s Arthur Fils. In the fourth set tiebreak of their clash, Hurkacz dived for a shot but landed badly on his knee and required on-court medical attention. He then played two more points before retiring from the match. 

In a social media post published on Wednesday, the  27-year-old confirmed he underwent a procedure on his knee earlier this week but didn’t provide any further details.  Although Hurkacz has stated his intention to play at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, where the tennis event will be held on the clay at Roland Garros. 

“I had a knee procedure this Monday, but I’m feeling better already and my team and are dedicating extensive time each day to the rehab process.” He wrote on Instagram. 

“It’s a dream for every athlete to represent their country at the Olympics, and I want to make sure I am fully fit and ready before making the final decision to step on court. The aim is not only to participate, but to win a medal for my country.”

So far this season Hurkacz has won 34 out of 48 matches played on the Tour. He won the Estoril Open in April and was runner-up to Jannik Sinner in Halle. 

The Olympic tennis event is scheduled to begin a week Saturday on July 27th. Poland is yet to win a medal in the event but expectations are high with women’s No.1 Iga Swiatek also taking part. 

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Motivation, Pressure And Expectations – Novak Djokovic Targets History At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

Novak Djokovic has broken numerous records throughout his career but he still feels the pressure of trying to make history in the sport. 

The world No.2 is through to his 10th Wimbledon final where he will play Carlos Alcaraz, who beat him at this stage of the tournament 12 months ago. There is plenty on the line for the Serbian who could equal Roger Federer’s record for most men’s titles won at SW19 and break the overall record for most major singles won in the sport if he triumphs over the Spaniard. Djokovic currently has 24 Grand Slam trophies to his name which is the same as Margaret Court, who won some of her titles before the Open Era started. 

“Obviously I’m aware that Roger [Federer] holds eight Wimbledons. I hold seven. History is on the line.” Djokovic said on Friday after beating Lorenzo Musetti.

“Also, the 25th potential Grand Slam. Of course, it serves as a great motivation, but at the same time it’s also a lot of pressure and expectations.”

Coming into Wimbledon, there had been doubts over Djokovic’s form after he underwent surgery to treat a knee injury he suffered at the French Open. However, he has defied the odds to reach the final. His run has also seen him beat Alexi Popyrin and Holger Rune before getting a walkover in the quarter-finals from Alex de Minaur, who sustained an injury during the tournament. Then on Friday, he overcame a spirited Musetti in three sets. 

Despite the challenge, Djokovic has insisted that his expectations to do well are always high no matter what the situation is. During what has been a roller-coaster first six months of the season, he is yet to win a title this year or beat a player currently ranked in the top 10. Although he will achieve both of these if her beats Alcaraz on Sunday. 

“Every time I step out on the court now, even though I’m 37 and competing with the 21-year-olds, I still expect myself to win most of the matches, and people expect me to win, whatever, 99% of the matches that I play.” He said.

“I always have to come out on the court and perform my best in order to still be at the level with Carlos [Alcaraz] or Jannik [Sinner] or Sascha [Zverev] or any of those guys, Daniil [Medvedev]. 

“This year hasn’t been that successful for me. It’s probably the weakest results the first six months I’ve had in many years. That’s okay. I had to adapt and accept that and really try to find also way out from the injury that I had and kind of regroup.”

Djokovic hopes that a Wimbledon win will help turn his season around like it has done in the past for him. 

“Wimbledon historically there’s been seasons where I wasn’t maybe playing at a desired level, but then I would win a Wimbledon title and then things would change.” He commented.

“For example, that was the case in 2018 when I had elbow surgery earlier in the year, dropped my rankings out of top 20, losing in fourth round of Australian Open, I think it was quarters of Roland-Garros, and just not playing the tennis that I want to play. Then I won Wimbledon and then won US Open and then later on became No.1 very soon.”

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Alcaraz is hoping to stop Djokovic in his tracks. Should he defend his title at Wimbledon, he would become the first player outside the Big Three to do so since Pete Sampras more than 20 years ago. He has won their only previous meeting on the grass but trails their head-to-head 3-2. 

“I’m sure he knows what he has to do to beat me,” said Alcaraz.

“But I’m ready to take that challenge and I’m ready to do it well.”

When the two players take to the court to play in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic will be 15 years and 348 days older than Alcaraz. Making it the largest age gap in a men’s Grand Slam final since the 1974 US Open. Whoever is victorious will receive £2,700,000 in prize money. 

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Carlos Alcaraz And Novak Djokovic Wouldn’t Yield To Medvedev And Musetti At Wimbledon

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image via x.com/wimbledon

Carlos Alcaraz seemed to be on his own against a vastly improved Daniil Medvedev. The defending Wimbledon champion appeared to be out of tricks.

And Medvedev sensed it.

Alcaraz still scored a 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Medvedev. It may look rather easy on paper, but there was nothing easy about Alcaraz’s victory. The young Spaniard just came through when he needed it to advance to what he hopes will lead to his fourth Grand Slam title.

MEDVEDEV APPLIED ENDLESS PRESSURE

Medvedev was always there, ready to pounce on any mistake by Alcaraz. But mistakes didn’t happen that often after Medvedev took the first set in a tie-breaker.

Alcaraz hadn’t served that well in the first set that Medvedev had taken in a tiebreaker. But it was a different story once Alcaraz found the mark on his serves. He just kept holding service until the match was his.

Remember, he’s only 21 years old. But now he faces someone in this Wimbledon final almost twice as old in 37-year-old Novak Djokovic.

NOVAK DIDN’T LET INJURED KNEE STOP HIM

Early in the match, Djokovic looked like he might have problems against Lorenzo Musetti. He appeared to have a slight limp in the right knee that was covered by a band. Of course, it’s been less than six months since Novak underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in that knee.

Djokovic didn’t always chase after balls in situations where his service game wasn’t in jeopardy. He just hit winners when the opportunities came along, and his serve was always ready to win a point, a game or the match.

MUSETTI WASN’T THE SAME

Young 25th seed Musetti had been so strong and talented in his quarterfinal upset of Taylor Fritz. The 22-year-old Italian had looked like he might be a threat to the likes of Djokovic and Alcaraz in the last two rounds in London.

Musetti appeared to be able to run down everything against the speedy Fritz, until Fritz seemed to grow tired in a fifth set that Musetti won easily.

The Italian wasn’t the same against Djokovic.

Djokovic was just too good and too consistent to allow Musetti to stop his bid for another title.

NOVAK THE VIOLINIST

The setting was completely different this time with Djokovic looking questionable at the start. But Musetti could hardly push Djokovic, and ended up losing by a 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Once Novak charged through the second set tiebreaker, dropping only two points, Musetti couldn’t get back into the match.

And then Novak came out pretending to play a violin on his racket for his precious 6-year-old daughter Tara, whom Novak said has been learning to play the violin for about six months.

Some fans apparently didn’t like this, but then there probably were others who became Novak Djokovic fans. Novak obviously is a great guy and dad these days.

After all, Novak has just played his 97th Wimbledon match, and he’s hoping in his 37th Grand Slam final to tie Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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