TENNIS – It’s easy to understand why Rafa Nadal might have appeared to be playing sluggish, tentative and unaggressive tennis at the start of the European clay-court season. It’s total war on red clay. It’s a long war. Maybe too long for one human being to go full speed from start to the finish line. James Beck
It’s easy to understand why Rafa Nadal might have appeared to be playing sluggish, tentative and unaggressive tennis at the start of the European clay-court season.
It’s total war on red clay.
It’s a long war.
Maybe too long for one human being to go full speed from start to the finish line, although Nadal has made a mockery of that analysis for much of his career.
Even the top horse must pace himself
This battle might be compared to the Kentucky Derby.
If the top horse comes out of the gate too aggressively, the horse is likely to fold before the finish line. Instead, for maximum results, the jockey must pace the horse to some extent. Even the great ones and possible great ones such as California Chrome.
When the finish line comes into focus, aggression and tenacity become critical to success.
Nadal obviously was pacing himself in Monte Carlo and Barcelona where he suffered quarterfinal losses to fellow Spaniards David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro. The ultimate red-clay prize is a week away in Paris.
Nadal is still in his prime at 27 years old, but playing four clay-court events leading into the French Open can drain a player’s intensity, especially one who plays with as much intensity as Nadal.
Is Nadal slipping?
So, is Rafa Nadal slipping? Don’t bet on it.
He almost corralled Australia. Only his back got in the way in the final, along with explosive Stan Wawrinka.
Nadal probably will still be around in late summer in New York City. If he can stay healthy, the odds of Nadal winning a Grand Slam title or two look pretty good after the way he has won three straight three-setters in Rome, the last two coming back from a set down to defeat Mikhail Youzhny and Andy Murray.
Rafa is a totally different player in Rome than the one who started the clay-court season. He’s intense and aggressive.
He’s pulling magic out of his bag, making the type of signature shots that only Nadal in the history of men’s tennis has been able to consistently convert.
Agassi backs up Nadal
I thought it was quite significant a few days ago when Andre Agassi proclaimed Nadal and not Roger Federer was the greatest player ever. This wasn’t just a broadcaster rambling on the air, this was a sincere analysis by one of the most respected tennis players ever to play the game.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the Roger Federer supporters’ claim that Federer is the greatest, when it is impossible to back up that claim with anything other than the number of Grand Slam titles Federer has won. Agassi pointed out that Nadal’s greatness came in the Golden Age of Tennis — the Federer, Nadal, Murray and Novak Djokovic era. Agassi obviously was alluding to the fact that Federer won seven Grand Slam titles before Nadal turned 20 years old.
Of course, there isn’t a way to accurately measure a Nadal or Federer against a Rod Laver. The only thing anyone knows for sure is that they are all among the greatest players ever.
James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com
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Loss Meaningless To Dominic Thiem In Hunt For ‘Most Difficult’ Title At ATP Finals
The world No.5 explains why the key to his latest match was keeping it short, but not necessarily winning.
LONDON: Dominic Thiem isn’t going to be losing any sleep over his latest loss at the ATP Finals with the ultimate prize still in his sight.
Thiem, who qualified for the semi-finals of the tournament of Tuesday, was far from his best as he slumped to a straight-sets loss to Matteo Berrettini. Who has become the first Italian in history to win a match at the event. It is hard to read too much into Thiem’s latest performance with him openly admitting that his focus was on his upcoming semi-final clash. Highlighting one of the drawbacks of having a round-robin tournament with some matches providing irrelevant to the overall standings.
“Of course I was still trying to win that match, but also, at the same time, I knew in my head that I have to take care (of my body) for Saturday because obviously, it’s the way more important match,” Thiem explained during his press conference.
“I’m really trying to get the body going 100% for Saturday, and it wouldn’t be that smart if I would have another three-hour match today.”
The comments do not mean that Berrettini just had a walkover win and he was made to work for the victory. Which levels the head-to-head between the two players to 2-2. However, both would admit that with not much on the line there was a lack of intensity.
“I think that today was maybe even the weakest compared to those three (matches).” Thiem states.
“We had a great one in Shanghai. We had a great one in Vienna and also here. Of course, it affected a little bit that both of us, we couldn’t do anything about the standings in the group anymore.”
The 26-year-old has certainly illustrated his worthy candidacy to lift the title on Sunday in London following his previous triumphs. Earlier this week he scored back-to-back wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Should he end up playing Nadal over the weekend and win, he would become the first player to defeat all members of the Big Three in the same tournament since David Nalbandian at the 2007 Madrid Masters.
There is still a way to go for Thiem to clinch the biggest title of his career to date. The Austrian believes he if he does manage to win the tournament, any other title is not off-limits for him.
“I think that maybe this tournament is the most difficult to win because you have to beat five top 10 guys in a row. Okay, you can afford to lose one match maybe, but still, I’m 100% sure that if you win this title you can win, as well, any other title.” He explains.
“I haven’t done it yet, but I think that if you win this title, it gives you a lot of confidence for Australia (Open) because it’s the closest, but for the full next year as well.”
Few can dispute the fighting spirit of the Austrian on the court in London. However, after a long season, he admits that he isn’t fully healthy. A situation his rivals also find themselves in. Although some are struggling more than others at present.
“I’m not 100%, but it didn’t affect me in these three matches,” Thiem admits. “That’s why I also really need to be careful because I really hope I have two more matches so I can give all that I have and my own 100% in the remaining two matches.”
Thiem could play one of three players in the semi-finals depending on the outcome of Friday’s matches. Awaiting him will be either Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev or Daniil Medvedev. The only way he can play Nadal is if they both progress to the final.
Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo secure their semifinal spot in the ATP Finals in London
Former ATP Finals runners-up Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo battled past Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 10-7 after 1 hour and 44 minutes to finish the Group Jonas Bjorkman with a 2-1 round robin record.
Kubot and Melo came back from an early break down and fended off four set points before Ram and Salisbury converted their fifth chance to win the opening set 6-4.
Kubot and Melo fended off a break point in the seventh game with a great serve, before they converted their first break point in the 10th game.
Kubot and Melo won five consecutive points in the Match Tie-Break to open up a 6-2 lead. The Polish and Brazilian players converted their fourth match point to secure their spot in the semifinal.
Matteo Berrettini Scores Historic Win Before Exit From ATP Finals
The 23-year-old ends his breakthrough season on the ATP Tour with another milestone in his career.
LONDON: Matteo Berrettini has become the first Italian man in history to win a match at the ATP Finals after defeating Dominic Thiem on Thursday afternoon.
The world No.8 managed to dismantle the game of his rival, who was far from his best at times, with the help of his blistering serve to seal the 7-6(3), 6-3, victory. Ending Thiem’s streak of four consecutive wins over top 10 players, including Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer earlier this week. In total Berrettini hit 30 winners to 21 unforced errors and converted both of his break point opportunities.
“I’ve always had great fights against him. I was able to stay mentally focused, especially in the first set when I lost my serve because I didn’t play a great game.” Berrettini said afterward.
“I’m really happy with my performance because I am not feeling great physically.” He added.
The downside to the round-robin format of the event is that some matches end up being irrelevant with this being one of them. Regardless of the outcome, Thiem has already qualified for the semi-finals and Berrettini is on his way out. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old Italian was playing for pride at The O2 Arena.
A close start to the match saw neither playing managing to gain any momentum during the first eight games. Then inconsistencies in Thiem’s game started to haunt him. Berrettini’s ability to hit the ball deep into the court forced his rival to make a series of errors as he broke for a 5-4 lead. However, it was his turn to stumble behind his serve as Thiem broke back to level with relative ease.
Despite neither player capitalizing on their advantages, the tiebreaker was a one-sided encounter. Three Thiem unforced errors, as well as a winning Berrettini slice, saw him go behind 0-4 in the blink of an eye. Creating enough of a margin for Berrettini to seal the first set with the help of a 134 mph ace.
Thiem clearly looked flat on the court compared to two days ago when he downed Djokovic, however, nothing should be taken away from Berrettini. Who kept focus and stuck to his game plan throughout the match. A backhand passing shot, followed by a crosscourt winner enabled him to break once again midway through the second set. Easing towards victory after just 76 minutes play, Berrettini closed the match out with a delicate drop shot.
“I’m really proud of myself, but also for my team, my family and my friends. It’s been an unbelievable season.” He reflected on his year.
“I didn’t expect at the beginning of the season to be here (in London). I hope to come back next year, but now I just want to say thanks to those guys (his team). Without them, it couldn’t be possible.”
“I’m happy to finish with a win.“
Despite the loss, Thiem will finish at the top of the Bjorg Born Group. He will play the runner-up of the other group in the semi-finals on Saturday.
Whilst Berrettini’s ATP season is over, he can’t rest yet. Next week he will be in Madrid playing for his country in the Davis Cup along with many other of his fellow players.
“There is one more event. I have to rest a little bit and then I think I deserve a holiday.” He declared.
Berrettini ends 2019 with 43 wins on the ATP Tour in what is a career best. He started the year ranked 54th in the world and didn’t make his top 10 debut until last month.
Italian men in the ATP Finals
-C. Barazzutti in 1978 – 0 wins and 3 loses
-A. Panatta in 1975 – 0 wins and 3 losses
-M. Barrettini in 2019 – 1 win and 2 losses
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