Rafael Nadal recovered from being bagelled in the first set to battle past Philipp Kohlschreiber 0-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a captivating contest at the Miami Open as the Spaniard competed in the 1000th match of his professional career.
Kohlschreiber made an emphatic start and shocked the Stadium Court crowd as he really brought the heat to Nadal, taking the opening set 6-0 after winning 67% of return points on Nadal’s first serve and 60% on his second. After gaining some confidence with service holds to get involved in the match at 2-2 in the second, Nadal took control as he reeled off seven games in a row, only allowing the German to win two points on his own serve in the second set. The fifth seed took that momentum into the final set and gained an early break before holding serve with ease throughout to reach the last 16.
Nadal, seeded five for this event, began his campaign here with a straight sets win over Dudi Sela, meanwhile his opponent, Kohlschreiber, came through a tough battle with American Taylor Fritz, recovering from a double break down to come through in a final set tiebreak. The odds were heavily stacked against the German in this, their 15th meeting, with Nadal leading their head to head 13-1. The German was also enduring a tough 28 losing streak against top 10 players as he stepped out onto the Stadium Court in Miami. After a promising start, the world number 31 could not maintain his level when it mattered most in the contest.
Kohlschreiber came out firing from the get-go, earning himself and immediate break point opportunity. The 26th seed capitalised by striking a return of serve winner cross court on the backhand side to make the perfect start. Nadal looked to respond as he worked his way to two break back points, but the 26th seed remained defiant and held to take a 2-0 lead.
Nadal was under pressure once more in his second service game as his opponent continued to really go after his shots on the forehand side, taking time away from the fifth seed. After squandering a game point, the Spaniard was pushed to face another break point and he cracked, going long with a defensive forehand to fall even further behind.
The crowd were left stunned as Kohlschreiber continued to ask the question with his returns of serve in the fifth game. Aggressive play from the German coupled with very tentative shanks off the forehand wing from Nadal saw the Spaniard relinquish serve once again.
The 26th seed had little trouble closing out the first set. The German missed the first set point as he attempted a very ambitious drop shot, but the first serve found the mark on the second chance. First set Kohlschreiber 6-0 after 25 minutes, the first bagel set that Nadal had lost since the 2015 Australian Open (l. Berdych).
In the second set the Spaniard made a much more encouraging start. The four time runner-up here in Miami held to win his first game of the match, tested Kohlschreiber by pushing him to 30-30 on the German’s serve and after missing out on gettingthe break he then held his own serve to love to move 2-1 ahead.
In the following game Nadal had a golden chance to earn his first break of the match as his opponent began to miss on the forehand side to go break point down. The Spaniard then played a far too tentative point, it was almost as if he was waiting for the German to miss after the fifth seed hit three balls up the middle of the court, before the 26th seed unleashed a forehand cross court winner. After surviving that scare, the world number 31 came through his most testing service game of the match to level the score in the second set once more.
In the sixth game the pressure finally told on the Kohlschreiber serve. Two backhand misses into the net from the 26th seed handed the break of serve which Nadal had been so desperate to secure. The Spaniard was eager to maintain his momentum and raced through his next service game before causing his opponent more anguish in the next game as he broke the German once again to seal the second set 6-2 after 37 minutes.
One of the key factors which helped Nadal turn that set in his favour was his drastic improvement on serve. Having only won 33% of points behind his first serve and 40% behind his second in the first set, the Spaniard improved those numbers drastically, winning 92% of points on the first serve and 80% on the second. The fifth seed did not give his opponent a look in on serve and it was also recognisable that Kohlschreiber’s form had taken a dip following a faultless first set.
Moving into the deciding set Nadal took complete control as Kohlschreiber’s bubble appeared to have burst. The German blew two chances to hold and despite saving one break point with a well executed backhand down the line winner, the 26th seed could not save another as he swiftly fell 3-0 behind.
The German asked the question of Nadal by holding serve throughout the remainder of the contest, but the fifth seed was not going to drop serve as he marched towards victory. The Spaniard held serve to love in the final game to complete an excellent comeback 0-6, 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 38 minutes. Next up for the former finalist, Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, after he took out Guido Pella in straight sets to reach the last 16 of a Masters 1000 event for the first time in his career.
Intriguing Team-Ups Lure Eyes Doubles’ Way. Will They Stay For The Problems, Too?
Will the recent surge in high-profile double partnerships have any impact on the long term future of the discipline?
In one of his press conferences at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Andy Murray said he would not be playing the US Open. His announcement came a day or so after his initial declaration that he would be playing only the two doubles events in the final Major of the season. A few things came out of Murray’s remarks. The first and the obvious was that the former world no. 1 was ready to give it his all (yet again) to play singles. The second, the understated aspect, was that doubles while seeming easy vis-à-vis singles required just as much focus, if not more. Then, there was a third.
In tennis’ continuity though, the relevance of the doubles game is not a recent epiphany. However, the last few tournaments of the 2019 season that featured some eclectic partnerships – Stefanos Tsitispas and Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Feliciano Lopez, the Pliskova twins, Andy and Jamie Murray, and so on – has made doubles slightly more prominent than singles.
Singles has become monotonous with the same set of players making it to the final rounds. On the other hand, doubles has brought in more verve to the existing status quo of the Tour, with each player’s individuality adding to the dynamics of the team. After his first outing as Kyrgios’ doubles partner at the Citi Open in Washington in July, Tsitsipas pointed this out.
“It’s the joy of being with a person who thinks differently and reacts differently. I would characterise him (Kyrgios) as someone who likes to amuse. I’m very serious and concentrated when I play, but he just has the style of speaking all the time. It’s good sometimes to have a change,” the Greek had said.
These changes – as seen with Murray’s recent decision – may not extend for a longer period. The culmination of these short-term team-ups does – and should – not mean the end of the road of doubles piquing attention, per se. At the same time, these transitory partnerships also reroute the discussion back to the financial side of the doubles game.
In a recent interview with Forbes, Jamie Murray – a doubles specialist – shared how conducive it had become for players to take up doubles as the sole means of a tennis career these days, as compared to in the past.
“Because the money is always increasing in tennis, it is a much more viable option to go down the doubles route a lot earlier than previous generations. Before, people would play singles and then when their ranking dropped, they played an extra few years of doubles. Now it is a genuine option to start off much younger and have a career in doubles,” the 33-year-old said.
Despite Murray’s upbeat attitude, these increases have not exactly trickled towards doubles, especially at the Slams including the upcoming edition of the US Open. For 2019, the USTA showed-off yet another hike in the prize-money coffer. The men’s and women’s singles champions will be awarded $3.8 million. In comparison, the men’s and women’s doubles teams winning the respective title will get $740,000. This sum gets further diluted for the mixed-doubles’ titlists who will get $160,000 as a team.
This is the third and final takeaway that emerged from Murray’s US Open call. For several of these singles players, intermittent doubles play is an option. For those who play only doubles, that is the only option they have. The doubles game requires similar effort – travel, expenses and fitness – the costs continue to outweigh the benefits. These momentary team formations are a gauge revealing the disparity of tennis’ two sides, visible yet obliviated beyond tokenism.
Svetlana Kuznetsova upsets Ashleigh Barty in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career
Russian wild card Svetlana Kuznetsova edged top seed this year’s Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty 6-2 6-4 in the semifinal of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova, who is now ranked world number 153, scored her third win against top 10 players this week after beating former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova.
Barty missed her chance to regain world number 1 spot from Naomi Osaka, who was forced to retire from her quarter final.
Barty earned the first break of the match in the second game of the opening set, when Kuznetsova netted a backhand. Kuznetsova broke back in the third game with a smash winner and earned another break at 2-2 when Barty netted a backhand. Kuznetsova hit a return winner to build up a 5-2 lead. Barty asked a medical time-out to treat he right leg. Kuznetsova held serve at 15 to close out the opening set after 30 minutes.
Kuznetsova went up a break in the first game of the second set. Barty won just three points on return in the second set. Kuznetsova closed out the second set with three winners in the 10th game.
“I am really happy. I am not really an analyzing person, but on my intuition, I am doing so much better, not repeating so many of my mistakes, just playing smarter and wiser now. It’s been so many different things when I was off, so I just enjoyed time off. Honestly, I was not missing at all the travelling and all the stress when you play tournaments, but now I have missed it and I feel good. I feel joy staying here and being here. It definitely helped me to have some time off to see other things outside tennis”, said Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova set up a final against Madison Keys, who beat Sofia Kenin in straight sets. The Russian 34-year-old veteran player has qualified for her first final since last year, when she beat Donna Vekic in Washington.
“Madison is extremely tough. When she is on fire, it is really hard to play against her. It’s going to be a difficult match-up”, said Kuznetsova.
David Goffin reaches his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati
David Goffin beat Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-4 on an overcast afternoon to reach the first Masters 1000 final of his career and his 13th title match at ATP Tour level at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Goffin has dropped just one set en route to the final.
Goffin is returning to his best form this summer under the guidance of former Swedish player Thomas Johansson. He reached the final in Halle and his first quarter final at Wimbledon. He received a walkover after Yoshihito Nishioka was forced to withdraw from the match due to food poisoning.
The Belgian player started the match with two consecutive holds before breaking at love to open up a 4-1 lead with a backhand winner down the line.
Goffin held his next service games to seal the opening set 6-3. Gasquet earned an early break to open 2-0 lead, but Goffin won five of the next six games with two breaks. The 2017 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up served out the win at love in the 10th game after 1 hour and 16 minutes, as Gasquet sent his backhand long.
Goffin reached the semifinal in Cincinnati last year, but he was forced to retire due to an arm injury.
“I am very happy. It’s a tournament I like and I have played the best tennis in the past few years. I am really happy to reach my first Masters 1000 final here. It’s a great moment for me.”
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