It’s Venus who takes the intergenerational clash - UBITENNIS
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It’s Venus who takes the intergenerational clash

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Venus Williams

Venus Williams brings her best game to defeat the newcomer Belinda Bencic 63 64. She’s now in round four of the Open for the 13th time in her career.

It was 1997 when Venus Williams made her debut at the US Open, reaching the final and losing it to the then number 1 Martina Hingis in straight sets. Belinda Bencic was only 5 months old at the time.

 

Eighteen years and 7 Grand Slam titles later, Williams is still competing at the Open, and this time around she’s facing that girl who was just born when she made her first appearance in New York.

Bencic has recently propelled into the public eye by winning at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, defeating four top tens, including Serena Williams, en route to the title. This year she has climbed twenty-one positions in the ranking, rising from number 33 to the 12th position in the ranking and getting often referred to as the future number one. Heads to heads are in favor of Williams, who has won all their three previous encounters dropping no more than four games per set. Bencic, however, is the odds-on favorite regardless of their history and of the struggles she had in defeating Misaki Doi in round 2, having to save three match points in a row. Venus’ path was not an easy one either, coming victorious of both Puig and Falconi only in the decider.

The stadium is packed as the two players approach the court for what is expected to be the most interesting third round match on the women’s draw, and probably a handover between a great champion and one still in the making.

In the first set both players hold their service games, Venus with relative ease and Bencic having to save three break points in the sixth games with three aggressive shots. Venus, however, plays amazingly and the break is in the air: in her next service game Bencic gets broken to love, after a bad double-fault on the breakpoint. Williams closes out the set with an ace, her fourth in the set together with sixteen winners to only six unforced errors.

In the second set the young Swiss starts improving her game, going up 4-1 and showing no intention of surrendering to the twice-former champion. Yet, from then on is Venus who takes the spotlight, winning five games in a row and displaying a tennis both fearless and accurate, bringing flashbacks of when she used to be a main contender for the title.

She will now face the winner of Kontaveit versus Brengle, on the road to a possible 26th match against her sister Serena.

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INTERVIEW: Brandon Nakashima Poised for A Productive Year in 2023

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

As the curtain closed on the ATP Tour season in 2022, the youngest American competitor among the top 50 in the world was proud about where he stood, but determined to keep moving up the international ladder across the next couple of years. 

 

He was appreciative of his many accomplishments, yet eager to explore new horizons in 2023. He seemed poised to achieve on an even wider scale in the year ahead, quietly confident about the player he has become, and secure with who he is and where he might be headed.

I spoke on the telephone not too many days ago with 21-year-old Brandon Nakashima. This was not the first time I had interviewed the appealing Californian over the past couple of years but, even in his understated way, it struck me that this young man has now become surer of himself, more aware of his capabilities, and better able to understand what it will take for him to make deeper inroads in the sport he plays so passionately for a living.

We started the conversation, of course, with his recent season-ending triumph at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. That eight man event is reserved exclusively for the top 21-and-under players, showcasing their current status in the sport, signaling the prominent role many of them will play in the future shaping of tennis. This round robin tournament experiments with the rules significantly. Rather than the standard six games to win a set, a player needs only four to succeed. Tie-breaks were contested with the game score locked at 3-3 rather than 6-6. Best of five set matches were played for the entire tournament as always has been the case. Time limits between points were reduced from 25 seconds down to 15 after an ace, a double fault or a missed return of serve.

Nakashima felt he handled the difficulty of a demanding format well in Milan. He told me, “With these shorter sets it can go either way. You get down a break and you are pretty much moving on to the next set. It takes away the element of trying to come back when you are down because it is so difficult to do. This was a good experience for me to win with this format. Personally I prefer the normal scoring format for tournaments, but it is a good concept to try it out for the Next Gen Finals. The shorter sets are more entertaining for the fans.” 

Nakashima dealt with it all exceedingly well, and surely benefitted from playing the Next Gen Finals a year ago and reaching the semifinals.

As he told me, “I think it definitely helped to have played it the year before. I got used to the format a little bit. But I was still nervous coming into my first match this year. I didn’t know what it was going to be like with these new players. It was still kind of new to me. I knew I had a good chance of doing well there and I had high expectations going into the event. I was happy with my level the whole tournament. It was a fun event for me to play.”

Nakashima endured some stressful moments in his opening round Robin clash before overcoming the Italian Matteo Arnaldi in five sets. He took the second and third set in tie-breaks, lost a tie-break in the fourth, but prevailed 4-2 in the fifth. 

Asked if he felt that hard fought and tense skirmish did him some good going forward, he replied, “I think so. The first match of any tournament is always going to be tough as you get used to the conditions out there. I was a little nervous coming out there and he was an Italian who had the crowd behind him, so it definitely wasn’t easy. It helped me for the later stages of the tournament in terms of my mindset on the crucial points.”

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Next on the agenda for Nakashima in the round robin was world No. 74 Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic. He took that match in straight sets and then concluded his round robin assignments by taking apart the Italian Francesco Passaro (ranked No. 119 in the world) 4-3 (6), 4-2, 4-1.

Now Nakashima had advanced to the semifinals, and in that penultimate round he stopped the formidable left-handed British player Jack Draper 4-3 (6), 1-4, 4-2, 4-3 (5), winning both the first and fourth set tie-breaks with characteristic poise under pressure. Nakashima was happy with his own performance and impressed with his opponent.

He explained, “Jack played a really good match against me. Both of us played high quality tennis and had great rallies from the beginning to the end of the match. He has a very big game with a good lefty serve that is tricky with the different spins he can get. He is very solid from the baseline as well. He has a good all around game to be at the top level of tennis, so I am sure this is not going to be the last time I play against him on the tour. We will be pushing each other far into the future.”

Having reached the Milan final, Nakashima found himself up against Lehecka for the second time in one week, with this meeting mattering much more than the initial contest. Nakashima was the better player on the biggest points in a high quality meeting. He came through 4-3 (5), 4-3 (6), 4-2 to take the title deservedly. 

“It is definitely not easy playing the same guy twice in the same tournament,” admits Nakashima. “I kind of knew the first match against him didn’t mean much going into the final. Obviously we knew more about each other’s games. I knew he would want to get revenge and he got off to a pretty good start from the back of the court. I had to weather the storm. Both of us played well. A couple of points at the end of both tie-breaks made the difference. It could have gone either way. I was fortunate to pull it out.”

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Asked about the significance of closing his 2022 season on such a high note, Nakashima responds, “It definitely means a lot ending this year with a title. It was a great year for me all around. I learned a lot and grew as a player. Finishing the year with a title against the best young and up and coming players is a great achievement. This tournament will be a good stepping stone for me.”

The Next Gen ATP Finals was not the only important prize that Nakashima added to his collection in 2022. In late September, he realized a longtime dream by capturing his first ATP Tour title, taking the 250 event in his hometown of San Diego, defeating countryman Marcos Giron in the final. That was a reward he will relish forever.

Nakashima says, “At the beginning of the year it was always a goal of mine to try and win my first ATP Tour title some time during the year. I always knew I had the game to do it, but it was just about having the right opportunity at the right time. To be able to win my first title in my hometown was super special. Having all my friends and family come out there to support me was really nice. I grew up learning the game of tennis in San Diego. I will never forget winning that tournament.”

Meanwhile, Nakashima impressively displayed his court craft at three of the four majors, reaching the round of 16 at Wimbledon before losing to Nick Kyrgios in five sets after ousting 2021 semifinalist Denis Shapovalov, going to the third round of Roland Garros where he lost 7-6 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5) to Sascha Zverev, and making it to the third round at the U.S. Open with a good win over Grigor Dimitrov before he was beaten in four tough sets by Jannik Sinner.

Those showings were abundant proof that Nakashima can compete against the best players in the world. Nakashima realized after doing so well in those big tournaments that he is not far away from moving to another level of the game.

As he points out, “I had the opportunity to play against some of the top players and I played some of my best tennis against them. It gave me a lot of confidence. Playing in those big stadiums like the Centre Court at Wimbledon and Armstrong at the U.S. Open was a cool experience. Even though I lost some tough matches to Zverev, Kyrgios and Sinner, I took a lot of positives from those. Maybe my favorite moment was beating Dimitrov at the U.S. Open. He had beaten me in Rome. At the Open I had the crowd behind me. It was great to win that match there and it was one of the highlights of my year.”

Over the course of 2022, Nakashima made some changes in his coaching camp that he feels will make a significant difference in the coming year and beyond. He now has in his corner Eduardo Infantino and Franco Davin. Davin, of course, worked in the past with a number of accomplished players including 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro.

Speaking about some of the coaching expertise that has come his way, Nakashima starts with the wise council he received from 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, who was with him in a crucial period up until the end of 2020.

Nakashima says, “I had a great time with Pat. We spent a lot of time together and I learned a lot from him, especially coming forward to the net as much as possible. I am grateful for the help he gave me and we will always have a good friendship. But at the time we stopped working together, I was looking for something else. I tried a bunch of coaches. Now I have Eduardo and Franco. It has been going really well. It is such a strong team and I have a physio as well. In terms of the coaching, Eduardo and Franco share it and they collaborate and communicate a lot, so having both in my corner has been great. They both add a lot of value to my tennis game.”

Being the youngest American in the world’s top 50 (at No. 47) is an honor not lost on Nakashima. He is prideful about his rise at the age of 21 into the elite of the game, and hopeful that the coming year will provide him with a chance to accomplish on an even wider scale.

As Nakashima explains, “It is a great achievement for me to end 2022 in the top fifty. American tennis right now is being played at a super high level. You have a bunch of guys in the top 50 and the top 100 always having consistent results. American tennis is in a very good spot. So for me to be inside the top fifty is great, but I want to keep getting better. My goals for next year are to break into the top 25 or 30 and go deep at all of the Grand Slams as well. I am still pretty young at 21 so I am building up my fitness and getting stronger and faster. One of the keys next year will be lasting longer in these best of five set matches. I felt that Sinner at the U.S. Open definitely lasted longer than me in those long rallies and the really physical games. So I am working hard to get fitter and fitter. I know what a difference that can make for me.”

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Rafael Nadal Surprises Fans In Mexico With Unexpected Announcement 

Thousands attended the Bullring in Mexico City to watch the world No.2 play.

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Rafael Nadal - Parigi-Bercy 2022 (Twitter @RolexPMasters)

On the final leg of his South American Tour, Rafael Nadal has told journalists in Mexico that his exhibition match in the country on Thursday will likely be the last time he will play there. 

 

The 22-time Grand Slam champion played in front of 30,000 people at the bullring in Mexico City where he defeated Casper Ruud 7-6(7) 6-4. At the event, which was called The GNP Tennis Fest, there was also a mixed doubles match with Leylah Fernández and Jack Sock facing Santiago Gonzalez and Renata Zarazua.

Shortly before taking to the court, a candid Nadal revealed that there is a strong likelihood that he will not play in Mexico again after ruling himself out of the 2023 Acapulco Open which takes place during the last week of February. 

“It will most likely be the last time I play in Mexico, Acapulco 2023 is not on my calendar and the 2024 season seems far away,” Nadal said on Thursday. “Now is the time to enjoy this moment to the fullest and play in an emblematic setting, with many people and in a country where I have always felt loved.”

Nadal is one of only three players to have won the Mexican Open four times during their careers. The others are Thomas Muster and David Ferrer. Nadal first won the tournament back in 2005 which was his first International Golf Series title (now known as ATP 500). He also won the title in 2013, 2020 and 2022. 

Whilst it appears that Nadal’s time playing in Mexico is over, he has no plans of retiring from the sport just yet. The 36-year-old heads into the start of the 2023 season looking to defend his title at the Australian Open. Apart from the French Open, he hasn’t won the same major event two years in a row. 

“For me the main thing right now is to be able to get to the important tournaments in full physical condition. I continue to enjoy day-by-day and I continue to have goals that excite me at a professional level. I’m going to try to achieve them until my body or mind says enough. At the moment, that hasn’t happened so I want to continue,” Nadal explained.
“I am happy doing what I do, I love competing on the big stages and the love of the people encouraged me to continue,” he added. 

Nadal holds the record for most Grand Slam singles titles won by a male player and has won a total of 92 Tour titles so far in his career. Only Ivan Lendl, Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors have won more than him. 

The majority of Nadal’s career has been defined by his rivalry with Federer and Novak Djokovic. Between the trio, they have won a staggering 63 major titles and 102 Masters 1000 events. Federer is the first of the trio to have retired from the sport. 

Looking ahead to the future, Nadal said he would be open to participating in an exhibition series with his two peers once all of their professional careers have ended. 

“We have lived a very nice rivalry and I hope that we can do a joint tour in which we play against each other in places that could not enjoy our history,” he commented. 

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Angelique Kerber Hopes To Inspire Others With Return To Tennis In 2023 

The former world No.1 is already plotting her comeback to the sport.

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Angelique Kerber (GER) - Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Angelique Kerber says she hopes to follow in the footsteps of players such as Victoria Azarenka by achieving success on the Tour after becoming a parent. 

 

The three-time Grand Slam champion announced she was expecting her first child shortly before the start of this year’s US Open and is set to give birth to her first child in the spring. Despite being on maternity leave, Kerber is continuing to keep herself active by playing tennis with children at a local academy in Puszczykowo and still trains at the gym. 

During an interview with the WTA, the German says her motivation to return to the Tour as a mother has been aided by the examples set by the likes of Azarenka and Kim Clijsters. 

“When you talk now to them, it’s more intense listening to what they say,” Kerber told wtatennis.com. “We see the moms can come back, also winning big titles. And I hope I can also be one of them, an inspiration for new moms and women to come back to doing their business.”

The 34-year-old hasn’t played a competitive match since losing in the third round at Wimbledon to Elise Mertens. So far in her career, she has held the No.1 ranking for 34 weeks and has won 14 Tour titles. In 2016 she won both the Australian Open and US Open trophies before going on to claim the Wimbledon crown in 2018. 

It is unclear as to when Kerber plans to return to the Tour but it will likely be during the second half of the 2023 season. One possible target could be the US Open which starts at the end of August. 

“I don’t know what time or which tournament because I really want to take the time,” she said of her return. “And when I come back, I want to come back 100 percent, fit again and feel good. This is the plan.”

Even before she was pregnant, an inquisitive Kerber asked fellow players such as Serena Williams what it has been like for them to return to the Tour after becoming mothers. But what was the best piece of advice she received? 

“Take your time,” she said, “enjoy the moment now. And then, they said I will feel when the time is there to come back. It’s better to take one month later than one month earlier.”

Kerber is currently ranked 102nd in the WTA rankings. This season she has won one Tour title which was in May at the Strasburg Open in France. 

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