Djokovic, Federer and other top guys open up about their chances at the US Open - UBITENNIS
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Djokovic, Federer and other top guys open up about their chances at the US Open

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US OPEN – On August 28, 2015, the USTA hosted the Media Day which saw the pressing having “unlimited/unrestricted” access to the top players in both the men and women’s draws. On the men’s side, Novak Djokovic (1), Roger Federer (2), Andy Murray (3), Kei Nishikori (4) and Rafael Nadal (8) were all present answering questions not only about their chances in the tournament but on a host of other matters.

On Preparation and Being at the Open

Djokovic: The Serbian feels that he is stronger and more mature than he was in 2011 when he won three majors. He is very confident and prepared for this tournament as he noted that he played 14 matches (singles and doubles) coming prior to New York since his Wimbledon victory. “I feel like I’m well prepared for New York. I’ve had a lot of matches like I mentioned. So that competitive mode is going to help me ease my way into the tournament better.  Confidence is still there … This is where of course I was setting up my form to be at its peak. Hopefully that can happen.”

Federer: Fresh off his 7th Cincinnati title where he beat the then world’s number 1 and 2 (Djokovic and Murray) in successive matches, the Swiss spoke on his thought process coming into the event, “The goal was for me to play well here at the US Open and hopefully defend Cincinnati, as well. I did very well at Cincinnati, and now the focus shifts to New York. I feel like I have a good chance.” Despite being a 5-time champion here (2004-2008), Federer has failed to make the finals since 2009. He said, “I came very close. Clearly my focus needs to be not trying to win the tournament right away, that’d be thinking too far ahead. I haven’t been in a finals in this tournament as of late. I came close, but close is not good enough. I’ve tried to build up as we move forward.”

Murray: The Brit played three tournaments this summer as well as doubles at one of the event and had this to say on his preparation for a possible 2nd US Open title: I think that I feel confident, I’m hitting the ball well. You know I’ve played a lot of matches so my body is match tight, which is good, and I also played a couple long matches the last few weeks, which is physically very good preparation for here”

Nadal: The Spaniard is having a poor season by his own standards. He has not won a major nor a Master Series 1000 all season long. His summer hardcourt campaign was derailed by Nishikori in the quarterfinals of Montreal and in the 3rd round by Feliciano Lopez in Cincinnati. His confidence has looked well shaken and stirred all season long, “As a tennis player, I’m feeling better today than I was a couple of months ago. I’ve worked a lot these last couple of months. I know the process; It’s a challenge for me to find the level of play that I’ve been at a lot of times in my career. I’m practicing great, now it’s time to play that great against the competition. The level of tennis is very close to being back there.  

Nishikori: The Japanese is looking to repeat his success at the open last year and do one better as he made the finals of a major for the first time in his career. Since his great run of last year, Nishikori has not shown that kind of form at any of the other following majors. However, he is feeling good about his chances here in New York. “I’m feeling pretty good. I think from last year this time I kind of stepped one up and I raised my level after this tournament, so I’m very happy with everything this year. Especially this summer I’ve been playing really well, from Washington and Montreal. I unfortunately got hurt and couldn’t play Cincinnati but still I feel very good physically and also tennis-wise, so very exciting, and it’s going to be a big challenge for me to play this year, again, but I’m very confident.”

Tough First Round Matches

When the draw came out, there were several first round encounters which looked to be very intriguing for some of these players. Federer, Murray and Nadal all have formidable opponents in the form of Leonardo Mayer, Borna Coric and Nick Kyrgios respectively and they are all well aware that they have to be focused from the very first ball. Mayer gave Federer a run for his money back in October in Shanghai last year. Federer noted that it was “was one of the luckiest matches I’ve ever won in my career, to be quite honest.” In regards to the actual matchup, Federer had this to say, “I like the power he has, on both sides, plus the serve, as well, which makes him tough to control from the baseline. I think I always got to try to make an athletic match and there’s lots of movement, shorten the points, on my terms. I think he’s a challenge, to be honest. … I hope I can play with my confidence and use my experience against a player like this.”

Nadal lost to Coric last year at the Swiss Indoors in Basel. Speaking specifically about the loss, Nadal seemed to have very little recollection of that encounter, “I don’t remember playing him before. It was a tough week for me; I had the surgery the week after. I don’t remember it very well, but I think I played very bad.” Nonetheless, the Spaniard was very complimentary of the Croat stating, “He’s a tough player. He’s a young player with a lot of energy and he’s a big competitor. He’s one of the players that is the future of our sport, so it’s a tough one, but I’m playing well. I feel like I’m ready.”

Murray’s upcoming clash with Kyrgios is really not noteworthy considering the fact that the Australian has yet to win a set against the Brit. He is 0-3 lifetime including 0-2 at majors both of which took place this year in Melbourne and Paris. “For me it’s just a tennis match and I go about the match in the best way possible by getting all the things, getting all the tactics, and everything sorted and you know, tailor my practices the next few days around his game style and that’s what I’ll be doing. You don’t obviously pay attention to the other stuff,” said Murray. The real reason this match is drawing so much attention is the “other stuff” as noted by Murray.

Kyrgios has been embroiled in controversy recently because of off-coloured remarks on court pertaining to the romantic entanglements of Thanasi Kokkinakis, Stan Wawrinka and Donna Vekic. The ATP recently imposed a conditional suspension and fine on Kyrgios pending good behaviour within the next 6 months. Murray has seen it fit to express his sympathy towards Kyrgios regarding the situation stating, “He’s a young guy and we all make mistakes and everyone here when they were 19, 20 would have done some bad things and made some mistakes, and for him, it’s unfortunate that’s its happening in front of millions of millions of people. And I think it’s wrong, a lot of the things that he’s done, but I also think that he’s still young, and everyone’s different. People mature and grow up at different rates.”

Djokovic takes on Joao Souza of Brazil and Nishikori will play Benoit Paire in their first round matches on Monday.

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Rafael Nadal Plays Down Expectations After Barcelona Win

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Image via https://twitter.com/bcnopenbs/

Rafael Nadal believes it would be ‘stupidity’ to regard him as a favourite to claim the Barcelona Open title this week after winning his first round match in straight sets. 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion is playing in his first clay-court event since the 2022 French Open after missing the majority of last season due to injury. It is also only the second ATP event of any kind that Nadal has played this year after Brisbane. 

Despite his lack of match play, the Spaniard got off to a solid start on Wednesday with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-3, win over Flavio Cobolli. During the match, he dropped serve only once and won 78% of his first service points. Nadal has now recorded 78 consecutive wins over players ranked outside the top 20 on clay. The last time he was beaten by a player outside the top 20 was back in 2016 at the Rio Open. 

Given his credentials, many consider the 37-year-old to be a title contender in Barcelona this week. Recently Stefanos Tsitsipas told reporters that he wouldn’t be surprised if he reached the final this year. Something the king of clay disputes. 

“Today to say that I am favourite I think is stupidity, Tsitsipas knows that it’s not the case,” said Nadal who is a 12-time champion in Barcelona.
“I understand what he says as respect for what I have done in this tournament. Everybody knows I am not favourite to win a tournament.”

Nadal will next play world No.11 Alex de Minaur, who is the highest-ranked player he has faced on the Tour since the 2022 ATP Finals. The Australian has already won 22 matches so far in 2024, claiming a title in Alcapulco. 

“I didn’t have the slightest idea if I was favourite (against Cobolli), I know tomorrow (Thursday) I will not be,” he said.
“But it doesn’t matter, I will go out and play and it will be an experience against a top level player.”

Nadal is bidding to reach the third round in Barcelona for the 16th time in 17 appearances. He holds the tournament record for most match wins (67) and titles won (12). 

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‘I Will Treat It As My Last’ – 12-Time Champion Rafael Nadal To Play Barcelona

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Nadal RG 2022 by Night (foto @RolandGarros)

Rafael Nadal will begin his latest return to the Tour at this week’s Barcelona Open which could be the last time he plays at the event. 

The 22-time Grand Slam winner confirmed on Monday that he will play at the ATP 500 event following concerns about his participation. Nadal hasn’t played a Tour-level match since the first week of January due to injury issues. He was scheduled to play in Monte Carlo before being forced to withdraw due to fitness problems. 

However, the former world No.1 will now be looking to get back on track at the Barcelona Open which he has won a record 12 times during his career. The stadium court of the venue is named after him. 

“I came here a bit on a last minute decision, not knowing if I could play but tomorrow I’ll be on the court,” Nadal said during a press conference.
“For me it’s a gift to be able to be here in Barcelona, I will treat it as my last year [here] and I want to enjoy every moment.” He added. 

The 37-year-old has played only three Tour-level matches so far this season which was at the Brisbane International. At that event, he beat Dominic Thiem and Jason Kubler before losing to Jordan Thompson in the quarter-finals. Shortly after Brisbane, Nadal suffered a muscle tear which sidelined him from action. More recently, he has been reportedly dealing with an abdominal issue but refused to go into details about it when quizzed by the media on Monday. 

“My feelings in training have been better than those I had in Mallorca. My body sensations have also been better and I feel ready to compete,” Nadal assured. 
“Then we’ll see what happens. I haven’t been able to practice service much. I will try to take on the burdens progressively. There is uncertainty, but it is what it is. You have to live with it. Within all of this, you have to be able to see things positively and be able to enjoy competing again, being in a tennis tournament, and here I am. What may or may not happen is less important to me.”

Barcelona will be the first clay event Nadal has played since winning the 2022 French Open. 63 out of his 92 ATP titles have been won on the surface. 

Nadal’s first round match will be against Italy’s Flavio Cobolli who is currently ranked 62nd in the world. Their match is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. 

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French Open Heartbreak Motivating Aryna Sabalenka Ahead Of Clay Return

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Aryna Sabalenka says she treats every loss as an opportunity to learn as she targets a place in the final of the French Open for the first time later this year.

The world No.2 returns to action this week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart which features eight out of the world’s top 10 players in the draw. Twelve months ago at the event, Sabalenka reached the final before losing to Iga Swiatek. The run set the stage for what was a largely successful clay campaign for the Belarussian who went on to win the Madrid Open before reaching the semi-finals of the French Open for the first time in her career. 

“I think Stuttgart is a good place to start the clay season. You’re slowly getting into this kind of like clay mood,” Sabalenka told reporters on Monday.
“I like to play lots of tournaments before the Grand Slam, so I think it’s a good one to start with.”

According to Sabalenka, belief is the key to having success on the clay. She has played six out of her 26 Tour-level finals on the surface, winning two titles which were both at the Madrid Open. A somewhat unique tournament due to its high altitude which makes the ball travel faster compared to other events in Europe. 

“It’s important for every player to know they’re able to play on each surface and don’t have this weird feeling going into the specific surface thinking like ‘Oh, my God, that’s not my place, I’m not going to do well here.’ It was really important for me to have this success, to have this belief.” She stated. 

Heading into this year’s clay swing, the 25-year-old does have extra motivation following her Roland Garros exit in 2023. After reaching the last four of the Grand Slam, Sabalenka was edged out 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5, by Karolina Muchova. In that match, she boasted a 5-2 lead in the final set and failed to convert a match point opportunity before losing. 

Admitting that she is still ‘hurting’ following that clash, Sabalenka said it provided her with an important lesson. 

“I’m still probably hurting. But it’s okay. I always say we’re not losing, we are learning.” She said of her French Open defeat. 
“I think that experience was really important for me to learn a lot of stuff. Hopefully this year I can do a little bit better.
“I make it to the same stage of the tournament and I’m going to stay there. No chance I’m going to do the same.”

In Stuttgart, Sabalenka will begin her campaign against either Diana Shnaider or Paula Badosa. 

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