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.
EXCLUSIVE: The Big Business Of Data Analytics In Tennis
Ubitennis speaks with the founder of Tennis Data company Sportiii, whose company is currently working with Stan Wawrinka’s coach Magnus Norman.
As tennis players head into their off-season, it is normally the same routine. A couple of days of rest followed by numerous training blocks to get them ready for the following season. They are guided by their coaches, physios and for a growing number with the help of a computer by their side.
With technology continuing to rapidly develop, the use of data statistics is becoming big business in the world of tennis. A method where players analyse the numbers behind their performance. Ranging from their service percentages to the average length of rallies they are playing. The idea being that their training is then customised to take into account those figures.
However, how much of a big deal is it?
Mike James is the founder of Sportiii Analytics. A company that provides detailed information on player’s strategies and patterns. They have a partnership with the prestigious Good To Great Academy in the pipeline and supply information to Stan Wawrinka’s coaching team. British-based James has more than a decade of experience in coaching and has previously travelled on the tour with the likes of doubles specialists Ante Pavic and Tomislav Brkic. At present Sportiii are working with several ATP and WTA players, but are unable to name them due to a confidentiality agreement.
“We are fortunate enough to be able to use Dartfish. Dartfish created a tagging part of their software package around 10 years ago. It allows us to make customized tagging panels or coding as they say in football or rugby. Essentially, we can tag or code whatever the player, coach or federation wants to look for.” James explained during an interview with Ubitennis.
“We are taking 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) of information which allows us to take the data and move that into a strategy for the players and their teams to know what is working and what isn’t.”
Tennis is far from the only sport to be influenced by the rapid rise of technology. Although, is it really a necessity? During the 1980s with the likes of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, they both managed to achieve highly successful careers without detailed statistical information. Some would argue that they most important aspect is a person’s talent on the court and how they mentally cope with different situations. Not how many rallies they win in under five shots.
Although James points out that without services like his, there is a chance that player’s could be training the wrong areas of their games. Therefore hampering their own development in the sport.
“If we know the 70% of the returns are going back into the court in the men’s game, then we know the first ball after the serve is extremely important. Also, if we know that 70% of the match is between zero and four, the serve and return is vitally important.” He said.
“Players hitting 20, 30, or 40 balls in a row before they have a break. They are not training the game, they might be training the technical aspects of their game but they cannot train tactically playing this many balls without a break.”
A method for the many, not the few
There are still a few stigmas when it comes to companies such as Sportiii. Many would think this service would be something mainly of interest to coaches and nobody else. However, James reveals that this isn’t always the case.
“Of course, some coaches want to know the information, but we have players we deal with without their coaches because they are the ones interested. If it’s going to work best with statistics, numbers and strategy, you’re going to want both the player and coach fully buying in to this way of thinking. That’s going to get the best result for sure.”
Novak Djokovic has previously worked alongside Craig O’Shannessy, who is the founder of Brain Game Tennis and writes numerous statistical articles for atpworldtour.com. Meanwhile, Alexander Zverev once said ‘all the big guys are using data analysis, they just don’t like to talk about it.’ There is clearly a market, but is it only for those who can afford it?
Despite the rise of prize money earnings, the disparity on the tour remains substantial. Rafael Nadal was the highest earner of 2019 on the ATP Tour with $12.8 million in winnings. In contrast, the 300th highest earner, Federico Coria, made just over $81,000. Less than 1% of Nadal’s tally. According to one report from The Telegraph, leading agencies in the tennis data industry are selling their top packages in the region of £80,000 ($103,000) per year.
“We look to do individual tailor made packages depending on a player’s ranking, age, experience, support team, if they are funded by their federation or if they are funded by private sponsors.” James commented on how Sportiii handles the situation.
“But at the end of the day, of course the first part of a player’s budget is for their coach and then maybe the Physio. But I think having an analyst or strategy consultant is becoming higher in the pecking order for players going into 2020.” He added.
Next year Sportiii will officially begin their work with Swedish tennis academy Good To Great, which is located to the north of Stockholm. Regarded as one of the top academies in the country, it was founded by Magnus Norman, Nicklas Kulti and Mikael Tillström. Their role will be providing information to those who use the facility.
“We’re really looking to steepen the learning curve and support their academy pro team. But also help develop their junior players they have coming through.” James explained about the collaboration.
“We support their team with educational workshops and I think this is the next phrase for data analytics. That will be going into junior tennis and not just looking at the top of the game.”
The desire to focus more on the younger generation of athletes emulates that of the ATP with their Next Gen Finals in Milan. An end-of-season event that features the eight best players under the age of 21. At the tournament, they use a series of new innovative methods. Including electronic line calling, the use of a handset to speak with coaches during changeovers and wearable technology.
There is no doubt that the new generation of players is more comfortable with the use of technology. But what does that mean for the future of coaching? Would it be possible that one day the profession could be replaced by a computer instead? This could appeal to those looking to save costs, however James isn’t convinced the complete removal of the human element will happen.
“If players are more certain and confident in knowing what they need to do, in my opinion the level goes up.” He states. “Then, if the level goes up, maybe we are not at the pinnacle of the sport seeing Rafa, Roger, Stan and Novak playing video game tennis. I think we are still going to get another level of tennis in 5-10 years, which is very exciting for the sport.”
It is inevitable that technology will have a greater presence in tennis over the coming years in some shape or form. The only question is where do you draw a line?
‘We Try To Fix Each Other’ – Aryna Sabalenka On Turbulent Relationship With Coach
The world No.11 speaks to Ubitennis about the reason why she departed and then reunited with her mentor.
2019 has been a roller coaster season for Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka both on and off the court.
The 21-year-old has claimed a trio of titles on the WTA Tour with all of those occurring in China. Overall, she has won 39 out of 61 matches played, as well as winning the doubles title at the US Open with Elise Mertens. On the other hand, she has also lost her opening match at seven tournaments this year and failed get back-to-back wins in three out of the four grand slams she played in.
Sabalenka is currently guided on the tour by Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov. A former top 20 player on the ATP Tour who retired from the sport in 2017. They have been working together for more than a year. It looked as if the partnership had come to an end back in August when both announced on social media that they are ending their collaboration. Sabalenka wrote ‘Thank you for everything and all the best in your future.’ However, the two soon changed their minds after.
“After the US Open, I realized that there was a problem, too many things off the court was diverting my attention from the game and this helped me to win something and find certain sensations.” Sabalenka told Ubitennis.com earlier this month in China.
“I realized how stupid it was to give Dmitry the blame for my failures, so I found a way to recover my relationship with him .”
The mixed season experienced by Sabalenka is one she hopes will help her in the long term. She ends 2019 inside the world’s top 20 for the second year in a row. Becoming one of only four players under the age of 21 to do so on the women’s tour.
“I hope that all this can help me start the next season in a more… intelligent, more experienced way.” She explains. “There is a bit of disappointment with what happened in these months, but at the same time I said to myself, ‘ok, you finally understood’. This means you can work on it and move on. Every player spends moments like that and usually always learns something, I hope it can happen to me too.”
Despite still being a relatively newcomer in the world of coaching, Sabalenka isn’t the first player Tursunov has coached. He had previously worked with compatriot Elena Vesnina and guided her to the 2018 Australian Open doubles finals. During that same year, Vesnina also reached the finals of tournaments in Indian Wells and Madrid under his guidance.
There remains a question as to what the future has in store for Tursunov’s latest partnership. Was their brief break a blessing in disguise or is there more trouble ahead for their working relationship?
“I hope to continue working with Dmitry.” Sabalenka stated.
“We tried to ‘fix’ each other a few things and this helped me stay positive. The intention is simply to move forward because our collaboration is very good and working great, I don’t want to lose him as a coach. If things are going so well, why should I look for someone else?’
“We tried to solve all the problems we had and I think we did it quite well.”
Sabalenka closes out her season with three wins over top 10 players. Defeating Kiki Bertens twice and Ash Barty once.
From Serena Williams’ Return To Strycova’s Rise: Coaches Shed Light on Their players At Wimbledon
On the eve of women’s semi-finals day at Wimbledon, the coaches working behind the scenes share their thoughts.
WIMBLEDON: On Thursday the four women taking to Center Court to play their semi-final matches will not be the only nervous people in the stadium. Watching from the sidelines will be their coaches. Who are tasked with the responsibility of trying to guide their players to grand slam glory.
24 hours before the matches took place, the mentors of Elina Svitolina, Serena Williams and Barbora Strycova spoke with the media. The latest initiative by the WTA, who has increasingly conducted more media sessions with coaches. Something the ATP Tour is yet to do. The only person missing from the session was Daniel Dobre. Dobre, who is the coach of Simona Halep, declined the invitation. Worried that he may jinx the former world No.1 if he spoke. Shortly after Dobre spoke in public at the French Open, Halep lost.
Svitolina’s British asset
Being British Andrew Bettles knows Wimbledon very well. He is a former junior player who once featured in the boy’s draw. Unfortunately for Somerset-born Bettles, he admits that he was ‘not good enough’ to embark upon professional tennis. However, he has always made an impact on the WTA Tour at the age of 26.
“It’s amazing. Growing up Wimbledon has always been so special. To be around it is amazing for me personally.” Said Bettles.
“I wasn’t a good enough player, but the coaching side always fascinated me. I’ve been lucky to work with some amazing coaches, and I’ve been lucky that Elina has given me this opportunity to be her coach.”
A former hitting partner to Ana Ivanovic, he was eventually promoted to the coach of Svitolina, who has become the first woman from her country to reach the last four of a grand slam. Svitolina will play Halep in her semi-final match and leads their head-to-head 4-3.
“It’s always been a good match-up.” Bettles previewed. “I think the key is to be aggressive and kind of maybe take a bit of control from the baseline. Then see if she can dictate the point.”
“The grass is playing pretty slow so it is about being more aggressive. The Grass is a leveler, but you can use it to your advantage as well. “ He added.
Whilst he may still be considered a newcomer to the world of coaching, Bettles has already proven that he knows what he is doing. Guiding his player to the WTA Finals title last year.
“I think because we are similar ages we get on very well. I can understand what she is going through and we are good friends. It’s not like I’m the boss. We talk things through and work things out together.” The Brit commented about their partnership.
Five facts about Bettles
-Graduated from Boise State University in 2014 with a degree in English Lit
-He was Boise State University’s No.1 singles player
-A former national champion in juniors
-Worked with Ivanovic between 2015-2016, before joining Svitolina’s team in 2017.
-During a very brief time on the Futures tour, he peaked at a high of 917th and won $5,968 in prize money.
Patrick Mouratoglou is undoubtedly one of the most well-known coaches in the world of women’s tennis. He has been guiding Serena Williams on the tour after working with a wealth of players on both the men’s and women’s tour.
It has been a turbulent season for the Mouratoglou-Williams team. Injury issues with Williams’ ankle and knee has hampered her training sessions and tournament schedule. Wimbledon is only the sixth WTA tournament of 2019 for the 37-year-old.
“I think she is in a good place at the moment. I think she is happy.” The Frenchman said ahead of Williams’ match against Strycova.
“She has been pain-free for three weeks and feels so much lighter.’
“When you focus on your pain so much because you’re in pain, it is difficult to prepare well for tournaments. You have to adapt to that pain to play tournaments.”
Williams has undoubtedly been gathering in momentum as the Wimbledon tournament has progressed. She has dropped two sets in five matches played. Scoring wins over seeded players Juia Georges in the third round and Carla Saurez Navarro in the fourth. In the quarter-finals, she edged her way past Alison Riske. One of the most in-form players on grass this season.
“In the last match (against Riske) you could see that she was able to raise her game when necessary, which was one of her trademarks. Everything is positive.” Said Mouratoglou.
“She started really slow in the tournament in terms of the level of play. I think the second round match was a key moment. I said afterward (to Serena) that it was the first time she was really struggling with her game and she dug deep and the next two sets were so much better. She felt her game better.”
Quietly confident of more success on Thursday at The All England Club, Williams’ mentor says her game is suited for the grass.
“Serve and return are two of her biggest assets. On the grass when you have those two things you have a big advantage and that is probably why she has had so much success on that surface.”
The American has won more matches (106) and more titles (8) than any other active player on the surface. This year is her 16th main draw appearance at Wimbledon.
Five facts about Mouratoglou
-Started coaching at the age of 26
-Previously coached Marcos Baghdatis (2005-06), Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (2006-08), Yanina Wickmayer (2010), Aravane Rezai (2009-2010), Laura Robson (2010-11), Jeremy Chardy (2011) and Grigor Dimitrov (2011-12)
– 84% of Williams’ time as world No.1 has been under his guidance
-Founder of the prestigious Mouratoglou Tennis Academy
-Also works as a TV commentator
The late bloomer
At the age of 33 Strycova is relishing in her best ever run at a grand slam tournament. Whilst not being the most powerful player on the tour, she counteracts speed with the use of slice, as well as the serve and volley. Reminiscent of how the game used to be played in the past. Strycova’s play proved too much for her opponent in the previous round.
“When you are playing against a player like (Johanna) Konta, who is more powerful than you, you have to find a way to eliminate that and play something different.” Explained coach Lukas Dlouhy.
“Hopefully we can find some tactic for Serena as well.”
Dlouhy is one of two coaches working with the Czech. The other is David Kotyza, who used to collaborate with Petra Kvitova. Strycova is also an accomplished doubles player and is currently ranked third in the world.
“We started 18 months ago together with Barbora. Some tournaments David goes to and some tournament I am going to.” Dlouhy commented about the setup.
“We just have to make a right schedule and that’s it.’
“We are working together so there are no disagreements.”
Refusing to give any details about the game plan for the upcoming match, which is likely to be similar to the one she used against Konta, Strycova’s mentor believes Williams can be beaten. Even though she hasn’t won a set in their three previous meetings on the tour.
“When you have a 0-3 record against Serena it’s tough. But she’s trying and she wants to win. She isn’t just going there to participate.” He said.
“It different because she was younger and had a different type of game. Now she is at the top of her game.’
“Serena has won everything, but she has days when you can beat her. So hopefully we can find out a way about how to do it.”
Known for her sometimes fiery attitude on the court, Dlouhy admits that it isn’t always easy to work with the former top 20 player. However, the positives outweigh the negatives.
“She has a lot of emotions. So some days it is tough to be in her box. Otherwise, she’s a good girl. She’s working and doing everything right. It’s enjoyable to be with her.” He concluded.
Five facts about Dlouhy
-A former world No.5 in doubles
-Played hockey as a teenager, but chose to focus fully on tennis at the age of 15
-Won 10 ATP doubles titles, including the French Open and the US Open in 2009.
-Growing up his tennis idol was Yevgeny Kafelnikov
-Earned more than $3 million in prize money during his professional career.
The women’s semi-finals will get underway at 13:00 on Thursday. The first match will be Svitolina against Halep followed by Williams’ clash with Strycova.
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