Rafael Nadal: Clay Court Magic Man - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal: Clay Court Magic Man

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

 

 

By Cheryl Jones

Spanish player, Rafael Nadal has taken a bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires nine times. Friday of the first week of Roland Garros showcased him in Courte Philippe Chatrier as the second match of the sultry, almost rainy day in Paris. He was on autopilot as he crushed his opponent, Nikoloz Basilashvili, who is presently ranked 63, 6-0, 6-1, 6-0.  It took just an hour and thirty minutes. It wasn’t really such a quick match and it’s a sure thing that Basilashvili didn’t think it was brief. The crowd went wild when Basilashvili finally eked out a game in the second set. If there were a prediction to be made after today’s match, it would be that Nadal looks good to take a bite out of the coupe once again this year.

Notable Coach Nick Bollettieri is not convinced however, or at least he wasn’t a few days ago. The last day of May, Bollettieri expounded on his opinion of Nadal’s chances of taking home yet another trophy in Paris. At eighty-five, Bollettieri may understand a bit more about aging than most of us, but he may not understand Nadal’s passion for tennis. From the age of four, coached by dependable Uncle Toni, Rafael Nadal has breathed tennis. He still does.

Bollettieri actually said, “I watched Nadal practice and he is hitting the ball hard. I saw him hitting the ball much flatter, which can make it more difficult for opponents. I saw him coming forward and going for big forehands. The only question mark I would have over Nadal would be how he might cope with playing seven matches over the best of five sets. He’s not a young guy any more.”

As Bollettieri said, he really isn’t a young guy in the world of professional tennis. But, I would add a caveat. Nadal moves like a youngster. Watching him flit around the court, it is clear he has the energy and stamina of a racehorse – well, maybe a rabbit, but he can still move like a young man. He’s not exactly Energizer bunny-like, but he has always been quick on the court. And this year, up to now, he has only played three sets apiece to vanquish his opponents. (He defeated Frenchman, Benoit Paire in the first round 6-1, 6-4, 6-1; and in the second, he sent The Netherlands’ Robin Haase back to Holland, 6-1, 6-4, 6-3.)

When Nadal first arrived on the professional tennis scene in 2003, he spoke very little English, (except for his famous – “No?”). He was manly muscled and he was only 17. He’s turns thirty-one today and his English vocabulary has expanded greatly. He hasn’t purged the “No?” from his vocabulary. His body actually looks a bit different these days. Gone are the overly toned muscles that were visible today as he removed his perspiration-dampened shirt during a changeover. (Though the crowd whistled and cheered, his ribs were visible and his upper arms appeared to have less circumference. It appears that he isn’t working on the same fitness regimen as in the past. Now he may be going for speed. It must be easier moving about the court with his more svelte and sleek body.)

There’s always been something boyish about Nadal. He has a self-effacing visage that is likely because he is shy. He tends to smile and nod a good deal, not because he doesn’t understand what’s going on, but because it may be difficult to come to terms with his fame.

After the match, he was asked about his point of view of his afternoon’s play and the intensity of his shots. He said, “I think I played great. Was my feeling, no?” The answer to his “no” this time, is, “YES”. He was never in any danger of falling behind his opponent. He was fluid and confident, even though his well-known tics were definitely all there. His water bottles were aligned perfectly; he tugged at his shorts and checked his hair often. He was the Nadal that we’ve all come to admire, even if no one can figure out why it is that he has to pull at the back of his shorts before every serve.

Last year, he had to withdraw and give a walk over to Marcel Granollers when he injured his wrist before the third round match. His match statistics here in Paris are otherworldly. He has a 74-2 match win-loss record. This was his one-hundredth best of five sets match on clay – a feat in and of itself. He has a 97-2 win-loss record on the surface. (Those two losses were to Robin Soderling in the round of 16 in 2009 and the quarterfinals in 2015 to Novak Djokovic.) Today was a good day for the Spaniard.

Today is his birthday and he will have a bit of time to celebrate with an off day. He was sure that a simple dinner with his family was all that might fit with his schedule. When asked about a celebration, he said, “Of course. This is Roland Garros. I will try perhaps to go out for dinner with my family. But it’s an important week for me here and I think I do need to remain focused above all.”

If the past is any indicator, focus he will, No?

 

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Australian Open Daily Preview: The Men’s Semifinals

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Daniil Medvedev after his quarterfinal (twitter.com/AustralianOpen)

Rafael Nadal is only two matches away from a record-breaking 21st Major singles title.  On Friday, he faces Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, in a semifinal rematch from this same round at the 2019 US Open.  In the other men’s semifinal, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas renew what started as a testy rivalry in 2018.

 

Also on Friday, it’s the championship match in mixed doubles at 12:00pm local time.  It will be Kristina Mladenovic and Ivan Dodig (5) vs. Jaimee Fourlis and Jason Kubler (WC).  Mladenovic is a two-time mixed double champion at Majors, while Dodig is a three-time champ.  The Australian wild card team consists of 22-year-old Fourlis and 28-year-old Kubler, who are both vying for their first Slam title.


Rafael Nadal (6) vs. Matteo Berrettini (7) – 2:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Their aforementioned US Open semifinal is their only previous meeting, which went to Nadal in straight sets.  That was Berrettini’s first Major semi, coming off a long five-set battle with Gael Monfils in the last round, just as he is now.  Nadal also endured an exhausting five-setter in the quarterfinals, where Rafa was hindered by stomach issues against Denis Shapovalov.  Both men are expected to be fully recovered on Friday, as they benefit from having two full days off between the quarters and the semis. 

Nadal has often capitulated in the Australian Open quarterfinals, more so than any other Major, with a 7-7 record lifetime.  However, it’s a completely different story once he advances beyond the quarters, as he’s 5-1 in semis at this tournament.  His only semifinal loss came in his first semi 14 years ago at the hands of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.  Since then, he’s undefeated in this round, which includes two epic five-setters with Fernando Verdasco and Grigor Dimitrov.  And overall in Major semifinals, Rafa is 28-7, though he has lost four of his last eight.

This is the third Major semi for Berrettini, who was the runner-up at Wimbledon last July.  Matteo has survived two five-setters this fortnight, and both times he let a two-set lead slip.  He has spent over 16 hours on court through five rounds, about two hours more than Nadal.  Both players arrived in Melbourne with questions regarding their health, as Rafa underwent foot surgery several months ago, and Matteo withdrew from the ATP Finals due to an oblique injury.  However, aside from Nadal’s hesitance to slide on the court, neither have seemed hampered by their recent injuries.

Rafa is fully aware of what a huge opportunity this is to take the lead in most Major singles titles won by a man, with Federer and Djokovic both absent.  Will the historical implications impact his play?  Also, is Matteo ready to defeat an all-time great on such a big stage?  He is 0-7 lifetime against “The Big 3.”  And Berrettini’s backhand remains a liability which Nadal can easily expose with his signature top-spin crosscourt forehand.  With history within his sights, and his enormous edge in experience, Nadal is the favorite to reach his sixth Australian Open final.


Daniil Medvedev (2) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

When they first played on tour at the 2018 Miami Open, harsh words were exchanged after extended toilet breaks, as well as Medvedev’s frustration over Tsitsipas not apologizing for winning a point thanks to the net cord.  The chair umpire had to physically intervene after the match.  Since that tense meeting, these players have mostly remained civil, yet they are certainly not good friends.  Medvedev claimed that first encounter, and won their next four as well.  However, Tsitsipas has now taken two of their last three.  On hard courts, Medvedev is 5-1.  And at hard court Majors, he’s 2-0, which includes a straight-set win in this same round a year ago in Melbourne.

On that day, Stefanos was coming off one of the biggest wins of his career, coming back from two-sets-down to defeat Nadal in the quarterfinals.  But on Friday, he should be the much fresher player.  The Greek advanced in straight sets on Wednesday after only two hours, while the Russian played five thrilling sets, and almost five hours, saving a match point to come back from two-sets-down to defeat Felix Auger-Aliassime.  Despite Stefanos undergoing an elbow procedure in the off-season, he’s looked completely unhampered by it.

This is a huge opportunity for Tsistipas to achieve his first final at a hard court Major, after losing in this round two of the last three years in Melbourne.  Even though Medvedev wrote a message on the camera lens to Tsitsipas after his quarterfinal claiming he wasn’t tired, Daniil has to be somewhat depleted after one of the most grueling quarterfinals in recent memory.  But based on their history, as well as Medvedev’s hard court prowess, Daniil should still be favored to reach his third consecutive Slam final on this surface.


Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Danielle Collins blasts past Iga Świątek and into the Australian Open final

Danielle Collins comprehensively beat Iga Swiatek to reach the Australian Open final.

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Danielle Collins (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

American Danielle Collins made light work of Iga Świątek to move into her first Grand Slam final.

 

The Pole looked exhausted, particularly in the second set, after her exploits in the quarter finals against Kaia Kanepi, and was no match for the explosive Collins. Świątek going down 6-4, 6-1.

Collins will face Ash Barty in the title match, who also came through in a comfortable straight sets, against another American, Madison Keys, 6-1, 6-3.

It’s looking to be a procession for the world number one in Melbourne, who has yet to drop a set.

On Saturday, the two-time Grand Slam winner will look to become the first Australian women to win on home soil for 44 years.

Having recovered from endometriosis last year, Collins’ run to the final is even more spectacular.

She immediately stamped her authority, breaking Świątek in the opening game.

This was backed up with a comfortable hold, that was sealed with a barnstorming backhand drive. Collins soon nabbed the double break and raced into a 4-0 lead.

But Świątek, to her credit, battled back, holding serve and breaking the American with some explosive hitting.She now trailed 4-2.

A topsy-turvy set of tennis saw Collins break the Pole for the third time, but the drama was only just getting started.

Świątek miraculously saved three set points, the second with a sublime backhand volley, to the delight of Rod Laver Arena, and broke the American, again.

This was backed up with a hold serve, to beg the question, could Collins serve it out and she did, converting her fourth set point in a marathon rally, 6-4.

The 27th seed had all the momentum going into the second set and clinically broke the Pole with some irresistible hitting.

More power tennis flowed from the American’s racquet and she secured the double break, moving into a 4-0 lead.

The seventh seed simply had no answer to Collins’ dominance, and although she saved a match point, the American was far too strong and made no mistake on her second.

After the match she spoke to the crowd.

“It feels amazing. It’s been such a journey and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s been so many years of hard work and hours at an early age on the court,” she said.

“Yesterday I was talking about all the early mornings where my dad would get up with me and practice before school.

“It’s just incredible to be on this stage, especially with the health challenges, and I’m just so grateful. I couldn’t be happier.”

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Nick Kyrgios Refuses To Engage With Doubles Player’s Criticism After Reaching Doubles Final With Thanasi Kokkinakis

Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis are into the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open.

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Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Nick Kyrgios has refused to engage in criticism from Michael Venus after he reached the Men’s doubles final with Thanasi Kokkinakis.

 

The controversial Australian reached his first grand slam final with good friend Thanasi Kokkinakis as they defeated third seeds Horacio Zeballos and Marcel Granollers 7-6(4) 6-4.

The Australian duo have also knocked out top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic as well as sixth seeds Tim Puetz and Michael Venus.

Speaking of Michael Venus it was the New Zealander who had a problem with Kyrgios’ behaviour in their match branding him as ‘an absolute knob’ as well as stating he has the maturity of a 10 year-old.

After the match Kyrgios refused to hit back at the doubles specialist as he wanted to focus on the victory, “Michael Venus, I’m not going to destroy him in this media conference room right now,” Kyrgios said in his post-match press conference.

“But Zeballos and Granollers are singles players. They’ve had great careers. I respect them a lot more than I respect Michael Venus. I think the balance was there today. The quality of tennis was amazing. I think the festival atmosphere was still there. I think they embraced it. They knew it was an incredible atmosphere.

“Zeballos took a selfie with us before we walked out. That’s how you embrace an atmosphere. You’re not losing a match and then getting salty about it afterwards. It’s ridiculous.”

Kyrgios and Kokkinakis’ reactions have caused a stir among opponents with their over-the-top celebrations after points.

However Kokkinakis told journalists that they are not disrespecting their opponents, “I think for the most part it’s not us trying to disrespect the opponents,” Kokkinakis said.

“It’s us trying to get the crowd going to just increase the atmosphere. Sometimes the opponents take it personally. That’s what happened with the Croatians that we played, the No 1 seeds. That’s obviously Michael took offence to that.

“We’re not doing anything directly to them to try and disrespect. We’re just trying to get the crowd even more hyped, and then some of them take it personally.”

Regardless of their reactions, Kyrgios and Kokkinakis have put a lot of attention on doubles as they bid to win their first grand slam title.

On Saturday they will have an all Australian final with Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell after they knocked out second seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 6-3 7-6(9).

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