History-Making Match Sees Rafael Nadal Crush Djokovic In Madrid - UBITENNIS
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History-Making Match Sees Rafael Nadal Crush Djokovic In Madrid

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

MADRID: Rafael Nadal is one win away from a fifth Madrid Open title after sweeping aside Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-4, in what was an historic semifinal at the Caja Magica.

The clash was one that will forever be embedded in tennis history. For the first time in the Open Era, two players have faced each other for the 50th time on the tour. Throughout the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry they have clashed in grand slam finals, ATP finals, Davis Cup encounters and even the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Prior to their 50th meeting, Nadal’s recent history against the Serbian has been one of despair. He had lost their seven most recent matches (amounting to 15 consecutive sets). This time round, it was a new story. The focus of the Spaniard was too strong for a patchy Djokovic as he dictated the rallies and read his opponent’s game like a book.

“The circumstances nowadays are completely different compared to those seven matches that occurred before. I think that the last two years perhaps haven’t been my best two years. For Novak, they were.” Said Nadal.

From the onset, there was a sense the match was going to be the Nadal show. In the first game of the match a breathtaking passing shot clinched the break as he roared to a 4-0 lead. It wasn’t until the 22nd minute that Djokovic got himself onto the scoreboard, but his inconsistency was fatal to his chances.

As Nadal served for the set, the first glimmer of frustration from Djokovic appeared. A forehand landing long prompted a loud groan from the world No.2. The movement and speed of the Spaniard were illustrated on set point after a delicate drop shot at the net secured the 6-2 lead.

A slightly more competitive second set followed, but still Djokovic’s inconsistency haunted him. The use of angle shots brought him the break he sought before the notorious Nadal hit back, delighting the packed crowd inside the Caja Magica. An awkward Djokovic backhand sailed out of the court, rewarding the home favorite a set and 3-2 lead. From that point, a Spanish win was inevitable. Even the crown sense it with a Mexican wave erupted around court Manolo Santana.

Storming towards his most comprehensive win over Djokovic since the 2012 Monte Carlo final, nerves started to trouble Nadal. Serving for a place in Sunday’s final, a break point was saved with the use of an audacious winning drop-shot. Two points later, victory was secured after a rally ended with error No.24 from the second seed.

“Rafa was obviously a better player today. He deserved to win. I mean, he was controlling the game from beginning to the end.” Djokovic said after his match.
“I did try my best. It wasn’t a very high quality level of tennis from my side. I made a lot of unforced errors, especially first set.”
“His quality was very high. He managed to do whatever he wanted really, especially in the first set.

Nadal dismisses French Open favourite label

Nadal’s triumph is his 14th consecutive win on the clay this season. Earlier this year he became the first player to win a 50th title on the surface by winning the Monte Carlo Masters. Shortly afterwards he also claimed a tenth crown at the Barcelona Open. During his press conference, Djokovic said Nadal was the favourite to triumph at Roland Garros, but the Spaniard is refusing to get ahead of himself.

“I know that I am playing well. I’m in a good way.” He said. “I started the year really well. I’m in a very important final, important tournament.”That’s the only thing I’m thinking about right now.”
“All the other things, regarding tennis, I don’t really care about.”

 

Standing in his way of a record fifth title at the Caja Magica will be Dominic Thiem or Pablo Cuevas. Nadal leads both players 3-1 in their head-to-heads, but has also lost to them both last year. Thiem defeated him at the Buenos Aires Open and Cuevas triumphed at the Rio Open.

“It’s going to be a tough match whoever I face tomorrow.” The Spaniard admitted.
“If I will be playing against Thiem.  He’s No. 3 in the Race, came from the final in Barcelona.  He’s young, has a lot of talent. I think the altitude helps him here.”
“Talking about Pablo, it’s more or less the same.  He is doing really well.  He played really well in Monte-Carlo, when he beat Wawrinka.”

Thiem and Cuevas will play their semifinal match later on Saturday.

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Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro

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

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro

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Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?

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Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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