TENNIS Mutua Madrid Open 2014 – R. Nadal d K. Nishikori 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 ret. An interview with Rafael Nadal.
Q. Congratulations for your fourth title. Maybe it’s a little bit bitter because of the Nishikori’s retirement. Happened the same thing to you in Australia, or is it tennis?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, no, it’s not tennis. There are circumstances, and sometimes those things can happen. I’m sorry for him. I’m really sorry. Of course when you have the dynamic that he’s having, when you suffer something like that, it’s really tough, he’s hard.
Well, obviously I suffered a similar situation, nearly the same, in Australia this year. So I know what I’m talking about and how bitter is it, especially when you’re playing an important match. So for me it was that day was, and for him it was this day. That’s the way it is. All of us have a moment have to face it, and today it was his day. He had to face it today.
Of course for me it’s a really important title.
Q. Congratulations for another Masters 1000 for your career. I wanted to ask you about Nishikori. Seeing how he played the first set and the rest of the tournament and Barcelona, too, do you think that that potentially he can be No. 1 of the world?
RAFAEL NADAL: I don’t know. I have no idea. To be No. 1 is pretty complicated. At the end, you know, I don’t like to put someone so high very fast, or when someone is not playing is well just throw them to the ground quickly. You have to keep your feet on the ground in every moment and think calmly.
Kei promised a lot of things, promised a lot a couple years ago, and he’s still very young. He has had a couple injuries. Whenever you suffer injuries everything is really complicated. I’m sure that he’s going to be within the best. I’m sure if he keeps playing that level he’s going to be a clear candidate to be up there.
To be No. 1 he has to show if he’s capable of playing with high regularity all year and being able to win on all surfaces.
To be No. 1 today it’s quite expensive. There are some players that play few matches, and to be No. 1, you cannot commit any errors. You have to commit very few errors, and the correct place.
If not, it’s really tough.
Q. Before he suffered, did you see another possibility to come back to the match? What was the percentage?
RAFAEL NADAL: You know I never look at the percentages when I’m playing. I just looking at the next point. That was my percentage, the next point, then the next one, and on and on. That’s all.
You know, I went through a really complicated moment in the first set. I think I played a really high level with the first two points. I played with aggressiveness, and then I was blocked.
There was some moments where, I don’t know, I couldn’t find myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to play or I was missing intensity, I was just mentally blocked. I had to go over that block.
It’s also true that I had some moments to go over it, and I couldn’t do it, because at the beginning of the second set he played really well. He did a break and we were playing quite well. I missed two returns and he did an ace.
So there are circumstances of the match that strike you all during the match. When you’re blocked, you just need a spark to go out there and compete again. I think the most positive thing for me is that in the second set, suffering, having a bad time out there, I managed to find the way to compete. You know, I was competitive on the second set.
I was being competitive. I had to to get back into the match and I think I was getting closer. I think I was. I think when I broke him, I think he was not that bad. I think. I’m talking honestly. I try to speak honestly whenever it happens to me and when it doesn’t.
I think when I managed to recover from the break in the second set he was playing normally. I think I saved a couple good points. I battled with a lot of points to play aggressively. It’s true, after going back and doing the break that he was just gone. He was going down and he couldn’t play anymore.
So I was being competitive. I don’t know if I would have been able to win the match. I’m not trying to think on that. In this moment I’m pretty happy because of my attitude. Within the negativeness that was going on in the match, I was still with a lot of illusion. I still had the energy to keep on trying, even though it was pretty tough.
In the end, I was also thinking that I just after the match that I lost in Barcelona, after the match that I lost in Australia, the match that I also lost in Indian Wells I was also pretty close to winning in Dolgopolov in some way I wanted to think that this year, you know, I just deserved something.
I was just fighting, because if I had the option I was going to be there to pick it up. It’s for sure that if I didn’t fight that tennis wouldn’t have given me that prize.
Q. The first day that you sat here you said that you had some doubts. How do you leave Madrid to face Roland Garros?
RAFAEL NADAL: Well, much better, of course. Of course whenever you win in sport, well, it’s something basic. It’s a vital part of sport.
Because whenever you win, you see things more clearly. You see again how to play. You are calm once again. You know how to strike the ball properly in the key moments.
Even though I think that today I did a not so good first set, I think I did a great tournament. This is the reality of the situation. You know, I didn’t do this in Monte Carlo or Barcelona. It’s true in Barcelona against Dodig I did a little bit better. Against Almagro, I played a set and a half pretty well, but without being secure in what I was doing.
That security here in this tournament, I’ve really had it here. I have felt again that I had that well, you know, it’s really complicated to explain. It’s a feeling that you have when you’re in the court. You know, the feeling of being secure.
The feelings that the things that you want to do you’re doing, that things are going in the line you want them to. I think I did that with Berdych and Nieminen, and with Bautista I did it for a long time.
Overall I think I did a pretty complete tournament. For me, you know, I should have maintained the level that I played during the first two matches during the whole tournament, which was the ultimate match for me to close this tournament.
I also have to face a complicated match and know how to battle them. That makes you stronger. I also needed to suffer and face complicated situations. I needed to go over them.
In this situation I hadn’t gone over them in the previous tournaments, and here I have. I won here, and it’s a pretty important tournament for me.
Q. Rafa, are you working on going up to the net? Today you didn’t do a lot of that, but it was very effective. The second serve, sometimes people that return well, they attack it. Are you working on those things?
RAFAEL NADAL: The second serve, you know, I served that way because of my general block. You know, my second serve was because of my confidence, because of my mental block. When going up to the net, you cannot go to the net when you are two meters behind the line returning.
Whenever you striking the ball, if you don’t have the confidence that it’s going to go in the court, you cannot go up. You do it three or four times and you see the space and you go up. That’s basic and logical in tennis. You cannot go to the net when you’re striking a good ball and then you throw three balls out of the court.
You just cannot go up. To go up to the net you need regularity. That’s what gives you the opportunity to go up to the net when you have opportunities.
Q. Two questions: First all, the crowd was of course supporting you. But as you just said, you were a little bit blocked. Was the crowd a support? And then secondly, you said that you are no longer 20 years old and we have another generation of tennis players coming. Which point do you think you are in in your career now?
RAFAEL NADAL: First of all, in my life I’ve had the feeling that the crowd, whenever I played, goes against me whenever I play home. And when I say that, the pressure is more than what the audience gives me. True that today whenever I had that negative feeling, whenever you’re playing home, maybe makes you a little bit more blocked because you want to do things properly.
You don’t want to disappoint all the people that are supporting you. You just want to do things well. But at the same time that I say that, thanks to the support of them. In the second set I was capable of competing again.
With what I was doing, the crowd just pushed me a little bit more and gave me the rest. So if you ask me, I’m always going to choose to play with the crowd supporting me, in my favor, of course. Obviously.
And talking about my career, I don’t know what you want to know. I am where I am. I’m 27 years old, nearly 28 in a few weeks. I don’t know. How many years have I been on the tour? 12? That’s a lot.
But I’m where I am. I’m competing for the tournaments that I’m competing for. I feel well physically. I’m feeling better and better physically, better than a year ago. This is the most important thing.
Mentally I still have the illusion for what I’m doing. It still makes me happy. I still feel fortunate for doing what I’m doing.
So those things make it worth it for me. Just doesn’t make me think on which moment I’m in my career. Just makes me think next week I’ll play in Rome and the next one, Roland Garros.
THE MODERATOR: Questions in English.
Q. Can I get your assessment of the way you played today and what it means for you to have won this tournament four times playing in front of your home crowd in your home tournament?
RAFAEL NADAL: Always win at home is more special than wining anywhere. Have the chance to play in front of your crowd and enjoy the feeling, the full support, is unforgettable for me. This city give me a lot. Give me everything.
The feeling that it gives me to play in] Spain, and Madrid in this case, is very difficult to find this feeling away from here, no?
So a very important victory for me. Very sorry for Nishikori. I really hope that it’s nothing too bad and he will have the chance to compete very soon again. He’s very important for our tour.
Japan is a big market. He’s a good guy. He’s a fantastic tennis player. So he’s doing everything great, and I want to congratulate him for everything.
Q. Maybe somebody ask you in Spanish, but you said something on court after the match that he was kind of crying. You go there to say something to him. Could you tell me what you said to him?
RAFAEL NADAL: Just I was asking to him where was the pain. I thought was the back. He told me that was the leg.
I just tried to hurry up him, to give my support to him, because I know how tough is have these problems on court in front of a big crowd. Happened to me a few times in my career, and I can tell you that this is not fun.
These moments are tough to accept, and I felt very sorry for him.
Q. Maybe this also you answer, but could you just tell me your impression of Kei Nishikori, especially in the first set?
RAFAEL NADAL: No, he’s an unbelievable player. He’s a player that he will fight to be in London in the Masters Cup this year. I am sure of that. I really hope that the injury is not too bad and he will be able to compete in Roland Garros.
And he’s doing fantastic things since the beginning of the season. He’s playing at his best level of his career, and that’s great. I am really happy for him. It’s good to have a player like him on the tour.
Q. Congratulations on another victory. What was it that surprised you most about Kei’s performance in the first set, if there was anything that surprised you? And even when you were losing it did you feel you could still come back and win the match?
RAFAEL NADAL: Normally I am a positive guy in general, so I always believe that I can find a solution.
But it’s true that for moments it was really tough, because I really didn’t have not one good feeling.
So was frustrating for moments during the match, but it’s true that I was fighting and fighting mentally. Physically always is a little easier part. Mentally is the most difficult part.
I was trying to fight a lot mentally to change the direction of the match and to change my personal feelings. That was the thing that I was focused on, because I know he was playing great.
Okay, nothing to say with that. The thing that I had to do was play better on me, no?
I need to forget about the pressure and forget about the bad feelings and try to find my game.
Maria Sakkari Powers Past Swiatek, Badosa Stuns Sabalenka At WTA Finals
There was a lot of emotion displayed during the second day of the season-ending event.
Maria Sakkari registered her first win at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Mexico by beating the Pole Iga Swiatek 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 26 minutes.
Sakkari, who is the first player from her country to participate in the event, fired 15 winners while the world number nine hit 29 unforced errors in the loss during their latest clash. It is the third time this season the 26-year-old has beaten Swiatek in straight sets after the French Open and Ostrava.
“I think it was a very solid match from my side,” wtatennis.com quoted Sakkari as saying during her press conference. “Obviously my serve really helped my game. I felt quite good with the altitude. I could control my shots pretty well. I think every day I’ll feel even better.
“I actually have a good game to play against [Swiatek]. All three times I played her, I played one of the best matches of the season. Like even today, I think I was very solid in these conditions.”
The first set stayed on serve for the first two games and then it was the world number six who started to put the pressure and managed to get the first break of serve to take an early 2-1 lead. The set continued on serve with the Greek able to consolidate the break and at 4-2 managed to go up a double break and that was enough for her to serve it out.
During the second frame the match stayed on serve until 3-3 when again it was the Athens native who had two chances to break. On the the second time of asking she managed once again to get the crucial break and serve out the match. Towards the end a frustrated Swiatek started to cry on court.
“I’m very proud that I can be the first woman, Greek woman, to actually represent my country into the Top 10 and of course in this tournament. It feels amazing to be able to travel around the world playing these tournaments, being one of the best players, and being from my country. I’m very, very proud of that.” Sakkari commented.
Badosa Smokes Sabalenka
In the other group match of the day, Spain’s Paula Badosa pulled off a shock win by upsetting top seed two Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-0 in one hour and 16 minutes. She was initially down 2-4 in the first set before going on to win 10 straight games to claim the victory.
“I think I played pretty good,” Badosa said. “The conditions are tough here to play, but I think I played an amazing match. She’s an amazing player. I knew I had to play like this. I’m really happy with my match.”
The world number 10 hit 14 winners and served five aces in the win while Belorussian looked rusty hitting 31 unforced errors in the loss.
Badosa now goes to the top her group as she has lost the fewest games so far in the tournament. As for Sabalenka, she admits that a breakdown in her mental game hampered her latest performance.
“After I lost the serve, I was really disappointed in myself and emotionally I was, like, really crazy,” Sabalenka said after the match. “I couldn’t just stop myself and kind of put myself back in the match.”
Badosa will next play Sakkari in the round-robin competition with the winner likely to secure their place in the last four of the tournament. It will be the first Tour meeting between the two players.
“I think she played a very good match today,” Badosa said. “I think the conditions were OK for her, as well. She felt quite good on court. I expect a tough match.”
Sabalenka will next play Swiatek.
“We Hope to Convince Federer to Play”: the Presentation of the 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters
Director Zeljko Franulovic talked about next year’s tournament, scheduled from April 9-17
The 2022 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters will take place from April 9-17, so it’s difficult to guess what the pandemic situation will be in six months. At the moment, however, the prevalent hypothesis is that all spectators will need a Covid Pass or to bring proof of a negative test before being allowed in the Montecarlo Country Club at Roquebrune, France. If some players will refuse the vaccine, then they will need to be tested regularly in accordance to the rules devised by the French government.
Other than that, there will be no surprises when it comes to the event’s logistics, since the Country Club has already added a new players lounge and a new press room in the past few years. In 2020 the tournament was cancelled, while in 2021 it took place behind closed doors (while still being televised in 113 countries); the last edition staged with a crowd, in 2019, sold 130,000 tickets, constituting 30% of the total revenue – another 30% came from the sponsors, 30% from media rights (a number that tournament director Zeljko Franulovic hopes to see increase) and 10% from merchandising.
While it’s early days to know whether the tournament will operate at full capacity, Franulovic has made it clear that the organisers are already planning to provide a better covering for the No.2 Court, whose roof has not been at all effective in the past in the event of rain.
The tournament’s tickets can be bought on the official website of the event, but Franulovic has already vowed to reimburse immediately every ticket “if the government and the health authorities should decide to reduce the tournament’s capacity.”
Ticket prices have increased by 2 to 3 percent as compared to 2019, ranging from £25-50 for the qualifiers weekend, £32-75 for the opening rounds, £…-130 for the quarterfinals and semifinals, £65-150 for the final, £360-1250 for a nine-day tickets. Franulovic claims that the prices are in line with those of the other Masters 1000 tournaments.
Finally, Franulovic supports Andrea Gaudenzi’s decision to create a fixed prize money for the next decade. While tournaments like Madrid and Rome are trying to increase their duration from 8 to 12 days, the Monte-Carlo director has claimed that he prefers to remain a week-long event, especially because his is not a combined tournament. As for the players who will feature, Franulovic hopes to convince Roger Federer to participate: “I’m certain that he will give everything he has to be able to stage another comeback on the tour, ma no one knows where he’ll play. However, I think that on the clay he should opt for best-of-three events like Monte-Carlo and Rome rather than the French Open.”
For this and more information, you can watch the video above.
EXCLUSIVE: How The ATP Plans To Make The Tour More Welcoming For LGBT Players
The governing body of men’s tennis has received praise for taking a proactive approach to the topic with the help of a leading LGBTQ+ organisation and a top research university.
During the first week of the US Open, there was an abundance of rainbow-theme flags and wristbands worn by both players and fans to mark the tournament’s first-ever Open Pride Day.
The event was part of the USTA’s Diversity and Inclusion strategic platform which aims to make tennis more inclusive. Unlike the women’s game, there are no openly LGBTQ+ players on the men’s Tour and there have been few historically, even though various players have spoken of their support for anybody on the Tour who decides to come out. Including Stefanos Tsitsipas and newly crowned US Open champion Daniil Medvedev, who were questioned about the topic following their second round matches. Meanwhile, Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime revealed that there is an ongoing survey related to LGBTQ+ issues being conducted by the ATP.
“Recently I’ve started doing a survey inside the ATP about the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “It’s important these days to be aware of that and to be open-minded and the ATP needs to do that, in today’s time it’s needed.
“The reason we don’t have openly gay players on the ATP Tour, I’m not sure of the reason, but I feel me, as a player, it would be very open, very welcome. Statistically, there should be some, but for now there’s not.”
In response to Auger-Aliassime’s comment, UbiTennis looked into the work currently being done by the ATP alongside two other parties. Their decision to venture into LGBTQ+ representation on the Tour is part of their recent commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of their players and staff. Last year, in May, they formed partnerships with Headspace and Sporting Chance.
The survey currently being conducted by the ATP started after the governing body of men’s tennis reached out to Lou Englefield, the director of Pride Sports, a UK organisation that focuses on LGBTQ+phobia in sport and aims to improve access to sport for all LGBTQ+ people. Through their connection, they contacted Eric Denison, a behavioural science researcher at Monash University’s School of Social Sciences. Denison was the lead author of the Out on the Fields study, the first international study on homophobia in sport and the largest conducted to date.
“I have been personally impressed with the initiative of the ATP and their desire to find ways to mitigate the broad impact of homophobic behaviour (in particular), not only on gay people, but on all players.” He told UbiTennis during an email exchange.
“We know of no other sporting governing body in the world that has been proactive on LGBTQ+ issues, and has taken a strong focus on engaging with both the LGBTQ+ community and scientists to find solutions.”
Denison says the norm has been for sports bodies to address this issue after they have been either pressured to do so or if the LGBTQ+ community got the ball rolling themselves. Incredibly, research conducted as part of the Out On The Fields initiative documented 30 separate studies which found sports organisations ignored discrimination experienced by LGBTQ+ people in sport.
Monash University has supplied the ATP with a series of scientifically validated questions, which they are using to ‘look under the hood’ at the factors which supports a culture where gay or bisexual players feel they are not welcome. The methodology is similar to a study Denison conducted in 2020 that focused specifically on the team sports rugby union and ice hockey.
“We suspect that tennis isn’t inherently more homophobic than other sports, or traditionally male settings. Instead, there is a disconnect between people’s attitudes towards gay people (e.g. the recent pro-gay comments by top players) and their behaviour, specifically their use of homophobic banter and jokes,” said Denison.
“This behaviour, which is largely habitual, creates a hostile climate for young gay/bi people who drop out or hide their sexuality. This means gay/bi players are invisible in youth tennis and leads to the downstream problem of no professionals. The banter/jokes continue because people think it is harmless.”
The hope is that players will also agree to be interviewed by the researchers for them to get a better understanding. All of the results will then be used by Pride Sports and Monash University to recommend evidence-based solutions. It is unclear as to how long the study will take or when the findings will be ready.
Former top 100 player Brian Vahaly is one of the few players to have been both openly gay and played at the highest level of the men’s game. However, he didn’t fully come to terms with his sexuality until after retiring from the sport at age 27. Speaking to UbiTennis earlier this year, Vahaly shed light on the potential barriers for gay players.
“There were a lot of homophobic jokes made on Tour. It’s a very masculine and competitive environment,” he said. “You don’t see a lot of gay representation, except for the women’s Tour. With me not having the personality of an outspoken advocate (for LGBTQ+ issues), certainly not in my twenties, I needed some time to understand myself. To me, in tennis I didn’t feel like there was anybody to talk to or anybody that was going through anything similar.”
The ATP has spoken with Vahaly about their initiative and he has become ‘quite involved.’ Through their discussions, he got acquainted with Denison for the first time. As a professional, Vahaly peaked at a ranking high of 64th in the world and won five Challenger titles. After retiring from the Tour, he has served on the USTA’s board of directors since 2013.
“I am happy to hear that the ATP is finally taking action to address this issue. I’m impressed they are taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to make a meaningful difference here,” he told UbiTennis.
The ATP aims to make the men’s Tour more welcoming to potential LGTBQ+ athletes playing either now or in the future. For those who question if such an initiative is important in 2021, you only have to look at the younger demographic.
Sportsnet quoted CDC data from 2019 which showed that 26% of American LGBTQ+ teenagers aged 16 or 17 has contemplated suicide, five times more than those who identify as straight (5%). Among those teenagers who heard homophobic terms, 33% self-harmed and an additional 40% considered doing so.
More than 2000 players around the world currently have an ATP ranking.
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