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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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth

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Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?

 

Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.

Who?

You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.

THIEM JUST ANOTHER PLAYER THESE DAYS

Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

ARE MEDVEDEV, THIEM AND TSITSIPAS REALLY THAT GREAT?

Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.

MAKE WAY FOR CARLOS ALCARAZ?

It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

A HERD OF PLAYERS WAITING TO MAKE THEIR MARKS

There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.

WOMEN’S GAME UNPREDICTABLE

The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.

PEGULA MAY TEST SWIATEK

Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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