The Spanish Elite Living In Rafael Nadal’s Shadow - UBITENNIS
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The Spanish Elite Living In Rafael Nadal’s Shadow

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

As Fernando Verdasco battled his way to the final at last week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, he knew what was coming in his post-match press conferences. More questions about Rafael Nadal.

 

Verdasco knocked out seeds Roberto Bautista Agut and Lucas Pouille to reach his first ATP 500 final since 2012. It was a significant achievement for the 33-year-old tour veteran, but it wasn’t enough to tame questions about Nadal, who was playing more than 9000 miles away in Mexico.

‘They already asked me this question, and, yeah, at the end, they are always asking me about Nadal’, Verdasco replied when questioned about Nadal’s coaching arrangements. ‘And I really love him, but it’s really tiring. I know that it’s Nadal, but whatever decisions they have to make, it’s their decision. Maybe it’s the best for them.’

The perils of Verdasco are something that Spanish tennis professionals have been forced to accept throughout their careers. Unlike many other countries, Spain has the luxury of having 10 players ranked inside the top 100 on the ATP Tour. Last year 10 ATP singles titles was won by Spanish players, but only two of them was by Nadal (Monte Carlo and Barcelona). Despite the success of numerous players, it has had little impact on Spain’s fixation with the nine-time French Open champion.

“I would have more popularity as a tennis player if I was not Spanish.” World No.17 Bautista Agut said during an interview with El Confidencial.
“Here (in Spain) there has been very good players. We are fortunate to have someone like Rafa Nadal and that has largely eclipsed the rest of the Spanish tennis players.”

Nadal has blossomed into a beloved figure in his home country due to his achievements in tennis. So far in his career, the 30-year-old has won 14 grand slam titles, spent 141 weeks as world No.1 and clinched 2 Olympic gold medals.

In August 2016, a study conducted by professor Francesc Pujol from the University of Navarra found Nadal to be the most popular athlete in the entire Spanish Olympic team at the Rio Games. The study measured athlete’s popularity on the internet and their social media accounts.

One player who has been eclipsed by Nadal throughout his career is David Ferrer. The former top-5 player is regarded as one of the most decorated non-grand slam champions in the Open Era. The 34-year-old has participated in 51 ATP finals, clinching 26 titles. Despite the success throughout his career, Ferrer’s popularity is a fraction of his rival Nadal. On social media site Facebook, he has just over 407,000 likes compared to Nadal’s 14.7 million.

Inevitably there is jealously amongst the top male players in Spain, but still they express their admiration towards their top player. Nadal’s journey to the Australian Open final in January, where he lost to Roger Federer, was hailed by Ferrer.

“It makes me so happy seeing Roger and Rafa back at their best level,” he said. “They give a lot to this sport and as a fan of tennis, I like to watch them.
“Besides, Rafa is a great mate and I have played almost all my career alongside him and Roger. So the longer they go, much better.”

The Nadal love-affair is something that makes some Spanish fans sad. Every May the tennis community travel to the Madrid Open, the biggest pro event hosted in Spain. Nadal fever is always in full swing with young children dreaming of one day following in the footsteps of their hero. Working at the event in recent years, I have seen the bigger picture beyond Nadal. I have spoken with fans and Spanish journalists who have candidly admitted that they feel sorry for the likes of players such a Ferrer. A perplexing view, some might say, considering Ferrer’s prize money earnings stand at almost $30 million.

Spanish tennis has the unique ability of producing an array of talented players, in both the men’s and women’s game. Yet, the outstanding achievements of Nadal are ones that have rightfully elevated him above the others. It is a position that Nadal deserves, but you can’t help but feel sympathy towards his team mates. Many of whom would have become stars in their own right if they wasn’t playing during the Nadal era.

Spanish players ranked inside the top 100 on the ATP Tour (as of 6/3/17)

6) Rafael Nadal
17) Roberto Bautista Agut
23) Pablo Carreno Busta
24) Albert Ramos-Vinolas
29) Fernando Verdasco
32) David Ferrer
34) Feliciano Lopez
36) Marcel Granollers
57) Nicolas Almagro
89) Guillermo Garcia-Lopez

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Ash Barty Reveals ‘Excitement’ After Mixed Doubles Medal In Tokyo

Ash Barty has revealed her excitement after her and John Peers won Australia’s first Olympic tennis medal for 17 years.

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Ash Barty and John Peers (@ITFTennis - Twitter)

Ash Barty revealed her excitement at winning Bronze in the mixed doubles in Tokyo with John Peers.

 

The world number one along with doubles specialist John Peers claimed Australia’s first tennis medal at the Olympics since 2004.

Despite benefiting from a bronze medal match withdrawal from Novak Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic, that hasn’t taken away the happiness of claiming an Olympic medal.

Speaking to the Channel 7 programmes Sunrise Barty proudly spoke about the achievement, “It’s been an amazing week for both John and I,” Barty was quoted as saying by Tennis Australia.

“We’ve played some great tennis, probably the best we’ve ever played together. To walk away with a medal and contribute to the team total here in Australia has been incredible.

“Johnny and I, we put ourselves in a position all week to play good tennis and I feel like we really deserve this one. We were so close to being in that gold medal play-off and I think for both of us, it’s been awesome. We’ve played great. I felt like we really deserved this one for Australia.

“No, I think for us it’s excitement. I just hope as athletes, as a whole Australian team that’s here – all 480 odd of us – we can bring a smile to people’s faces at home when they’re sitting on the couch enjoying watching us trying (to) go out there and do Australia proud.”

As for John Peers it was an achievement of a lifetime, inspired by the traditional Olympic spirit, “Any chance you get to represent your country and to do it alongside Ash, to be able to say we’re the first mixed doubles medallists at an Olympics for Australia is something really special,” the 33 year-old commented.

“There was so much uncertainty leading into the Games and to be able to see the way the Australian team’s come together and sort of really bonded has really shown the Australian spirit, the way that all the athletes get behind each other.

“To be able to show the Olympics is going on in uncertain times is just something really special and unique and hopefully it can be the turning point for the world, and Australia, to come out the other side.”

Both will be hoping that this week will be the start of something special for Australian tennis as they will look to capitalise on this success in three years time in Paris.

Next for John Peers will be Washington next week where he and Filip Polasek are the top seeds.

While Ash Barty will be starting her preparations for the US Open in Cincinnati which starts on the 16th of August.

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Czech Republican Trailblazers Inspire Krejcikova and Siniakova To Olympic Gold In Tokyo

Barbora Krejcikova and Katarina Siniakova reflect on Czech Republic’s Olympic past after Olympic gold.

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Barbora Krejcikova and Katarina Siniakova (@WeAreTennis - Twitter)

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova admit that former Czech Republican trailblazers inspired them to win doubles gold in Tokyo.

 

The top seeds claimed gold with a 7-5 6-1 win over Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic.

After edging a tight opening set, the Czech Republican duo eased to victory to claim gold in Tokyo.

It was a historic gold as the pair went one better than trailblazers Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova who won silver in Seoul 1988 and Atlanta 1992.

After the victory today Krejcikova paid tribute to those before them and said that they were inspired by those who came before them, “The motivation we got from the previous medallists is really big,” the Roland Garros champion told the ITF website.

“I think we got really inspired by them. I think we really need to thank them because without them we just wouldn’t have the motivation and the inspiration.

“It’s really big. We’re really happy and really grateful that we could be here. We did such a great job during these 10 days and we have this beautiful gold medal. It’s pretty much a dream come true.”

While Katerina Siniakova also outlined how special it is to win the gold medal as the top seeds remain the team to beat in the Women’s doubles game, “It’s really special this one,” Siniakova admitted.

“I really enjoyed my whole time here. It was really tough and I’m so glad we kept fighting and in the end we have this one, this gold medal. It’s really amazing. I feel so honoured I got to represent my country.”

The Czech Republican will be favourites to win their fourth grand slam at the US Open in late August.

As for Bencic and Golubic, it has been a successful tournament especially for Bencic who won Olympic gold yesterday.

After the match Bencic admitted it’s not just about Olympic medals and that its about the memories created, “It’s not just about the medals or the titles, it’s about the memories you create that will last forever,” Bencic claimed.

“To share this with Viki is unbelievable. The whole week I never felt like I was in a normal tournament or playing alone. She was alongside me the entire way. I always tell her we won this gold medal together as well.

“When we will be 80 years old and have a coffee, we will talk about these moments and I cannot wait for that.”

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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Sascha Zverev and Karen Khachanov Play for Gold

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Karen Khachanov celebrating victory earlier this week in Tokyo (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

48 hours after ending Novak Djokovic’s bid for a Golden Slam, a feat only achieved by German Steffi Graf, Sascha Zverev looks to win another gold medal for Germany.  But a big-hitting Russian stands in his way, one who owns a winning record against Zverev on hard courts.

 

The last day of tennis in Tokyo will also host two gold medal matches in doubles.  In women’s doubles, Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova have won three Majors, and now go for a gold medal against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic.  For Bencic, it’s an opportunity to win a second gold medal in as many days.  

In addition, a pair of teams representing the Russian Olympic Committee will face off for gold in mixed doubles.  Will Elena Vesnina be able to recover from a devastating loss in Saturday’s women’s doubles bronze medal match?  Vesnina and Veronika Kudermetova held four match points, only to lose the last six points of the match and fail to reach the podium.

Sunday’s play gets underway at 3:00pm local time.

Sascha Zverev (4) [GER] vs. Karen Khachanov (12) [ROC] – Second on Centre Court

Overall they have split four previous encounters, but Khachanov leads 2-1 on this surface, which includes their two most recent meetings.  And neither of those have been close.  At the 2018 Paris Masters, it was 6-1, 6-2.  At the 2019 Rogers Cup, it was 6-3, 6-3.  The event in Paris was the biggest title run of the Russian’s career, and a week where he also defeated Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic.  However, he hasn’t won a title, or even reached a final, ever since.  And prior to his run to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, Khachanov was only 16-14 on the year.  But it is worth noting he’s 4-0 lifetime in ATP finals, with his other three victories coming at 250-level events.

Zverev is certainly the far more accomplished player.  He owns 15 career titles, which includes four Masters events, as well as the 2018 ATP Finals.  And he’s reached the semifinals or better at Majors three times, something Khachanov is yet to achieve.   Though I do wonder just how much scar tissue was created by his loss in the final of last year’s US Open, where he was up two sets before eventually losing in a fifth-set tiebreak.  Both he and Dominic Thiem played a considerably nervy match, and this will be Zverev’s first best-of-five final since that painful loss.

And that could be a significant factor on this day: the men’s singles gold medal final is the only match at the Olympics that is best-of-five.  Zverev possesses a much stronger record in best-of-five, and a far superior record in five-setters.  As per Tennis Abstract, Sascha is 16-9 in fifth sets, compared to Karen’s record of 6-7.  And Khachanov’s two most recent five-set wins were not pretty.  A few weeks ago in the fourth round of Wimbledon, against Sebastian Korda, 13 out of the 18 games in the fifth set were breaks of serve.  And last summer at the US Open, he was only able to come back from two sets down thanks to the cramping of Jannik Sinner. 

So who is the favorite to win gold?  Their head-to-head favors Khachanov, while recent form and best-of-five experience favors Zverev.  And the German has been serving excellently throughout this tournament, striking 40 aces and only three doubles, especially impressive for a player who has suffered from double fault issues in the recent past.  However, Zverev had a much easier road to this final than Khachanov.  Other than Djokovic, Sascha faced no one ranked inside the top 40, while Karen beat three top 30 players.  The Olympics are an event which often produces surprising tennis results.  And these are two men who are known to get tight in big matches.  But considering the way Zverev has been serving, and the confidence boost his upset of Djokovic should provide, I give Sascha the slight edge to become an Olympic champion.

Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev (4) [ROC] vs. Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev [ROC] – Vesnina not only lost a heartbreaker on Saturday, she and Kudermetova also served for the championship a few weeks ago at Wimbledon, before losing 9-7 in the third.  And Vesnina and Karatsev were defeated in the mixed doubles final at Roland Garros, the same event where Pavlyuchenkvoa lost in the women’s singles final.  Who will realize redemption on Sunday?

Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova (1) [CZE] vs. Belinda Bencic and Viktorija Golubic – The Czechs are of course the favorites, with three Major titles as a team.  The Swiss are a new team formed exclusively for this event.  But don’t count them out, especially with Bencic coming off a gold medal victory in singles on Saturday evening.

Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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