US OPEN: Rafa’s Dream Is Not To Surpass Roger’s Grand Slam Record - UBITENNIS
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US OPEN: Rafa’s Dream Is Not To Surpass Roger’s Grand Slam Record

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Rafael Nadal captured his 16th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday, inching closer to Roger Federer’s record at 19 and distancing himself from Novak Djokovic at 12. The victory also allowed the Spaniard to consolidate his No. 1 spot in the ATP rankings. It will not be easy for Roger to dethrone his rival before the end of the year.

 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

NEW YORK, FLUSHING MEADOWS – The US Open final produced the result that everyone expected, as Rafael Nadal of Spain convincingly prevailed over Kevin Anderson of South Africa in straight sets. Before the match, Anderson’s chances were very slim and virtually nobody believed that the South African – who at 6’ 8” was the tallest Grand Slam finalist in tennis history – could defeat the Spaniard in a best of five match. The head-to-head stats between the two players were clearly one-sided in Nadal’s favor, with the Spaniard only dropping one set in four meetings.

31-year-old Anderson, who has been living in Illinois for many years and is also married to an American, never managed to break Nadal’s serve throughout the 2 hours and 27 minutes match and reached 40-40 only in the very last game, when Rafa was serving for the championship at 6-3, 6-3, 5-4 and became “human” for three minutes. “I didn’t serve very well in the last two games,” Rafa said in his post-match press conference.

Anderson’s extraordinary serve helped the South African reach the final with an average of 19 aces per match, but Rafa’s return skills proved too much even for one of the best servers on tour. Anderson hit only 10 aces and his first serve percentage was below 60%. Rafa was standing 12 or 13 feet behind the baseline while waiting for Anderson’s serves and I wonder why Anderson didn’t use his slice serve out-wide to Rafa’s backhand from the deuce-side more often. The South African seemed comfortable using the serve out-wide from the ad-side instead, which didn’t cause Nadal any problems as the ball went straight into his forehand’s strike-zone.

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The Mallorca native lost only 15 points in 16 service games and won an astonishing 16 points in 16 attempts at the net. His volleys were impressive throughout the entire match and he also served-and-volleyed successfully in a couple of occasions.

Rafa is surely better at the net than Djokovic and perhaps Federer early in his career. Roger tremendously improved his skills at the net when he worked with Stefan Edberg a few years ago, but early on he didn’t seem as comfortable at the net as he is now.

With 16 Grand Slam titles to his name, Rafa is now inching closer to Roger Federer’s record at 19. Roger is five years older than Rafa and should in theory “stop” winning before the Spaniard. At 36 years of age, Roger achieved something truly unique this year winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon. How long can Roger keep this up, despite his world-class talent? One or two years?
The question is also how long his back – which is apparently the most fragile part of his body – will hold up. The same question applies to Rafa, as the Spaniard was often sidelined in 2012, 2014 and 2016 with multiple knee and wrist injuries.

“Do I dream about surpassing Federer in the Grand Slam title count? No, I don’t really think about it. My only dream is to continue to be healthy and happy,” Rafa candidly admitted to Spanish reporters.
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Despite Rafa’s opinion and feelings, the number of Grand Slam titles won by these legendary players does matter to the fans, media and everyone involved in the tennis circus. If Nadal reached Federer at 19, the fascinating discussion about the Greatest of All Time could become very fiery, especially considering that Rafa has a strong lead in the head-to-head against his Swiss rival.

In the past few years, Djokovic started closing in on Nadal’s record and defeated the Spaniard in multiple occasions. At the beginning of this year, Djokovic had 12 Grand Slam titles and Nadal had 14. Now Rafa is 4 Slams ahead of the Serb.

After putting together two almost perfect seasons in 2011 and 2015, Djokovic seemed the most probable candidate to threaten Roger’s all-time record and it is amazing how things have changed so quickly. Novak will be back in Australia next year and many wonder what kind of shape he will be in.

Nobody expected such a dominant resurgence from Roger and Rafa in 2017. At the beginning of the year, Murray and Djokovic were the two dominant players, but somehow faded away as the months went by. Murray has been suffering from a hip injury, while Djokovic has been dealing with elbow issues for almost the entire season. Stan Wawrinka was also sidelined with an injury for the second part of the year. All these multiple injuries that affected the top players have certainly made the task of Roger and Rafa a little bit easier.

Rafa now has an 1,860 points advantage over Roger in the ATP rankings, but the Swiss will try to gain some ground during the indoor season that traditionally favors his style of play. After the Laver Cup exhibition in a couple of weeks, Roger is scheduled to play Shanghai (1,000 points), Basel (500 points), Paris-Bercy (1,000 points) and the ATP Finals in London (1,500 points). The number one ranking will also depend on how Rafa will perform at those events.

(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )

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Laver Back In the Conversation For Greatest Player?

Daniil Medvedev thwarted Djokovic’s Calendar Year Grand Slam ambitions and is ready to take over as the best in the game.

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Who’s the greatest player ever?

 

How about Rod Laver, the owner of two Calendar Grand Slams?

Or what about Rafa Nadal, the owner of 21 major singles titles (including Olympic Gold)?

Or what about 20-20-20-Laver?

HOW DOES 20-20-20-LAVER SOUND?

Since Novak Djokovic failed in his bid to win a Calendar Grand Slam on Sunday, I nominate the last of the three possibilities. 20-20-20-Laver sounds like a winner.

For Djokovic just to enter the conversation was a major achievement, and that was spurred by the Serbian’s bid for a Calendar Grand Slam.

Daniil Medvedev ended that conversation on Sunday, at least for now, with his straight-set 4-4-4 dismantling of Djokovic in the U.S. Open final.

DISAPPOINTING YEAR FOR NOVAK

As 2021 turned out, it was a really disappointing year for Djokovic, even though he won the year’s first three Grand Slam events. Most players would be out celebrating if they won three Grand Slams in one year.

The loss to Alexander Zverev in the Tokyo Olympics ended Novak’s Golden Grand Slam. And then Medvedev took care of the Calendar Grand Slam talk and the possibility of Djokovic breaking a 20-20-20 deadlock with Nadal and Roger Federer.

So, what’s next? I doubt that Novak is planning to skip the Australian Open in January. Even that one won’t be easy for Djokovic as a result of what has happened in late summer.

NO PICNIC DOWN UNDER FOR NOVAK

Djokovic has practically owned the Australian Open with nine titles in Melbourne, and eight of the last 11. But Medvedev and Zverev will be major obstacles for Djokovic in Melbourne, along with Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The Australian Open isn’t likely to be a picnic for Novak, even if Federer and Nadal skip the trip. If so, Federer and Nadal will be leaving the Australian Open in capable hands.

Things should start heating up by the quarterfinals Down Under.

By the way, Djokovic is 34 years old. That’s about the age Nadal started having trouble winning Grand Slams.

A DOMINANT VICTORY FOR THE RUSSIAN

Medvedev beat Djokovic at just about everything he tried on Sunday. Djokovic was never in the game on serving competition or powerful forehands.

Those areas belonged to the 25-year-old Russian.

And movement? On this day, Medvedev had a picnic. The 6-6 first-time Grand Slam winner was everywhere with his amazing quickness. Djokovic couldn’t put a dent in his baseline defense.

Medvedev even out-did Djokovic in the Serbian’s usually solid drop shot department, pinning  even more disappointment on Novak.

Novak even caused a ball girl to change directions during the match as he swung his racket near the surface in  frustration after losing a point. Later, he punished his racket by smashing it into the court and destroying it.

MEDVEDEV’S SERVE MADE THE DIFFERENCE

The key to the relatively easy win for Medvedev was his serve. He was a perfect 15-for-15 on first-serve points in the opening set.

Medvedev obviously had little trouble with his serve until he was ready to end the match. With Medvedev owning a match point at 5-2 in the third set, the crowd tried to help Djokovic. Only then when the crowd got into the act of trying to break Medvedev’s attention did he double-fault twice in a row before netting a forehand to give Djokovic the game.

But in the final game of the match, Medvedev was ready for the crowd attack, although he double-faulted another match point away before ending the match with a big serve out wide for a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory. Djokovic managed only to hit the bottom of the net with his backhand return.

And suddenly, the tall Russian looks like the best player in the game.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Raducanu Proved She’s The Better Player

The British sensation shocked the tennis world – can she keep it up in the coming years?

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They played in the largest tennis stadium in the world.

 

They were teenagers. They achieved a dream early in their careers.

It just as easily could have been a junior championship a year earlier in their careers.

Only a few people would have been watching then. Such an event might not even have drawn newspaper coverage.

REAL LIFE NOW SETS IN

This meeting was much bigger and more important. The two participants would be $2.7 million richer between them before the day ended. They would become famous the world over, at least for now.

But this was Saturday, 9/11/21.

Real life now sets in. There probably are at least 100 other players in the world who are just as outstanding as Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez. Yet, most of them will never be involved in a Grand Slam singles final.

NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN

What Raducanu and Fernandez accomplished will never be forgotten, always listed in tennis annals.

England will always be proud of its new Grand Slam champion. At long last, Virginia Wade has company.

And Canada will never forget its feisty Grand Slam runner-up.

They stood the test while other more touted and talented players buckled at the knees. High-ranked players crumbled at the thought of losing to a mere teenager.

Next time, that advantage probably won’t exist.

BRITISH 18-YEAR-OLD WAS THE STRONGER PLAYER

Raducanu and Fernandez played the final like the teenagers they are.

Raducanu came close to making it a one-sided result when she held match point twice with a 5-2 lead in the second set. But Fernandez did not give up on her left-handed game that Raducanu had conquered before in the junior ranks.

After losing both points and the game to make the match closer, Raducanu fought off a pair of break points in the next game before making good on her third match point for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

The British 18-year-old generally outplayed the 19-year-old Fernandez most of the 111-minute final. Raducanu had more firepower on her serve and ground strokes.

RADUCANU A PERFECT 10

Raducanu played like a tour veteran, even if it was only her fourth tour-level event. It was her 10th straight win without dropping a set, counting her three wins in qualifying just to get into the main draw. No women’s qualifier before even had advanced to a Grand Slam final.

She has the game to win consistently on the tour, but probably not strong enough to challenge the Top 10 players and Grand Slam titlists right away. She’s now no longer under the radar. Everyone wants to beat a Grand Slam champion.

This may have been just a one-shot opening that Raducanu took full advantage of to win a Grand Slam title.  Just in case the road ahead gets bumpy, she might want to be thrifty with the $1.8 million payday.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Novak Djokovic Was Pushed To An Amazing Performance

Zverev fell just short of beating the world N.1, and now Medvedev is the last obstacle still standing on his path to a Calendar Year Grand Slam

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Novak Djokovic was simply amazing Friday night.

 

True, he made a few mistakes against Alexander Zverev, but not when they counted most.

Zverev also was superb, but his mistakes came when they counted really big.

For those reasons, Djokovic is getting ready to play for the unthinkable. No one had thought much about a Calendar Grand Slam until back in June when Djokovic shocked the tennis world with a victory over Rafa Nadal at the French Open.

By the time Wimbledon came around without Roger Federer and Nadal in the field, the odds were high that Djokovic actually could achieve a Calendar Grand Slam. And then he won Wimbledon and in the process turned the race for most Grand Slam titles into a 20-20-20 battle.

ZVEREV CAME CLOSE TO SPOILING THINGS

When Federer and Nadal pulled out of the U.S. Open, all of Djokovic’s goals except a Golden Grand Slam when he lost to Zverev at the Olympics were in play.

Nearly two weeks later, Djokovic is one victory away from breaking out of the 20-20-20 deadlock as well as completing a rare Calendar Grand Slam.

Zverev pressed Djokovic into playing his very best to escape with a 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory in the U.S. Open semifinals. Only a cold start to the fifth set chilled Zverev’s hopes of spoiling Novak’s dreams.

Even after losing the first five games of the fifth set, Zverev still came close to making things interesting by winning the next two games and going to 30-30 in the eighth game.

MEDVEDEV HAS THE GAME TO WIN

Zverev’s improving game, and his big strokes and serves probably were enough to make Novak hope he won’t have to face Zverev’s hard balls again in January at the Australian Open.

That leaves only Daniil Medvedev between Djokovic and immortality.

Medvedev will have to be at his best to beat Novak. The slender 6-6 Russian can’t afford even a brief meltdown if he is to take Djokovic to the wire.

Medvedev appeared to be in awe of Djokovic when the two met in  this year’s Australian Open final.  Djokovic won that one easily in straight sets.

DANIIL IS DUE TO MAKE HIS MARK; IT’S HIS TIME

Medvedev’s game is a piece of work. He is completely unpredictable.

His whip forehand is one of the best shots in tennis. He backs it up with incredible movement.

It all depends on whether Medvedev can stick with Novak until the end. If Medvedev is still there, Novak likely will feel the heavy legs from his 214-minute bout with Zverev.

Not even Djokovic can out-move Medvedev. And the Russian’s uniquely quick serve has plenty of pop. He is due to win a Grand Slam.

But Medvedev will have to pull off a miracle against one of the smartest and slyest players tennis has ever seen if he is to win this U.S. Open.


James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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