MADRID: Dominic Thiem has become the first player to defeat Rafael Nadal on the clay this year after stunning the top seed 7-5, 6-4, in the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open. Meaning that Roger Federer will return back to world No.1 on Monday.
Thiem, who has lost his two most recent meetings against the Spaniard in straight sets, applied an aggressive game plan from the start. Holding firm on the baseline and pushing his rival around the court. Hitting 29 winners to 28 unforced errors. A stark contrast to Nadal’s tally of 12 and 29. Furthermore, Thiem also converted five out of his 12 break point chances in the match.
“I had to really increase my level compared to Monte-Carlo to beat Rafa here. He’s in a really great form. He won 21 matches on clay (in a row) and 50 sets. This is amazing. So I had to play an extraordinary match, and that’s what I did.” Said Thiem.
“I moved well. I was physically tough. But always against him, there are long rallies. You get out of breath. But it was a good thing, as well, today.” He added.
In what was a repeat of last year’s final, the quality displayed by both men was at its highest level to begin with. Nadal, who entered the clash on a 14-match winning streak, faced a stern test from the onset. 24-year-old Thiem demonstrated some of his best tennis to wow the crowd on Court Manolo Santana. Including a breathtaking 162kph forehand winner.
The courageous efforts of the Austrian paid off in the sixth game of the match. After failing to break early on, he finally broke Nadal down as the Spaniard hit back-to-back errors. Elevating Thiem to a 4-3 lead. Holding serve, he was on the brink of taking a set off Nadal on the clay. Ending the Spaniard’s record run of 50 consecutive sets won on the surface. Tasked with the mission, Thiem missed out on his first golden opportunity. A forehand drifting long squandered his set point before another unforced error a couple points later enabled the top seed to fight back and level 5-5.
Despite falling short, another opportunity soon beckoned for the fifth seed after another lacklustre Nadal service game resulted in his second break of the match. Serving once again for the set, Thiem triumphed with the help of some heavy hitting deep into the court. Clinching the 7-5 lead with an ace out wide and ending Nadal’s unbeaten run.
On the verge of a shock victory at the Caja Magica, Thiem continued to outplay and trouble the 16-time grand slam champion. Who grew more and more frustrated on the court. A forehand landing out from the Spaniard secured Thiem a break during the early stages of the second set, moving him closer towards a place in the last four.
Exchanging further breaks in the match, just two games stood in the way of Thiem clinching his best win of the season (by ranking). Battling on to 7-5, 5-3, the Austrian then recovered from 0-40 to deuce against the Nadal serve. Shortly after Thiem went on to seal the victory with another forehand cross-court winner.
“I tried to come back. I tried to do it. I tried to do it a couple of times. But I haven’t been good enough today.” Said Nadal. “He was better than me today. That’s the end of the story. Some days you don’t play as good as you would like to play. Also when that happens it’s because your opponent is doing really well.”
Set to lose the No.1 ranking next week, Spaniard praised Thiem following their latest match. This week he was bidding to win his fourth consecutive title on the ATP Tour and his 78th overall.
“I am playing against one of the best players of the world. He played well. We played in special conditions. The ball flies more here.” Nadal evaluated. “It was a little bit more difficult to have the control of the ball. I was not under control of the point almost never during the match.”
Playing in the semi-finals of the tournament for a second consecutive year, Thiem will take on Kevin Anderson next. Who defeated Dusan Lajovic in his match earlier in the day. The South African joked after his win that he would rather play Thiem than Nadal.
“I’m happy that I play him tomorrow the first time on clay. We always played on pretty fast hard courts. But still, he serves great. His serve is also working very well here in the altitude I think.” Thiem said about Anderson.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be completely different, like today, obviously against Kevin. But I try to go in the same way, to have the same attitude like today. I think then it can be a good match for me.”
Thiem trails Anderson 0-6 in their head-to-head.
Intriguing Team-Ups Lure Eyes Doubles’ Way. Will They Stay For The Problems, Too?
Will the recent surge in high-profile double partnerships have any impact on the long term future of the discipline?
In one of his press conferences at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Andy Murray said he would not be playing the US Open. His announcement came a day or so after his initial declaration that he would be playing only the two doubles events in the final Major of the season. A few things came out of Murray’s remarks. The first and the obvious was that the former world no. 1 was ready to give it his all (yet again) to play singles. The second, the understated aspect, was that doubles while seeming easy vis-à-vis singles required just as much focus, if not more. Then, there was a third.
In tennis’ continuity though, the relevance of the doubles game is not a recent epiphany. However, the last few tournaments of the 2019 season that featured some eclectic partnerships – Stefanos Tsitispas and Nick Kyrgios, Andy Murray and Feliciano Lopez, the Pliskova twins, Andy and Jamie Murray, and so on – has made doubles slightly more prominent than singles.
Singles has become monotonous with the same set of players making it to the final rounds. On the other hand, doubles has brought in more verve to the existing status quo of the Tour, with each player’s individuality adding to the dynamics of the team. After his first outing as Kyrgios’ doubles partner at the Citi Open in Washington in July, Tsitsipas pointed this out.
“It’s the joy of being with a person who thinks differently and reacts differently. I would characterise him (Kyrgios) as someone who likes to amuse. I’m very serious and concentrated when I play, but he just has the style of speaking all the time. It’s good sometimes to have a change,” the Greek had said.
These changes – as seen with Murray’s recent decision – may not extend for a longer period. The culmination of these short-term team-ups does – and should – not mean the end of the road of doubles piquing attention, per se. At the same time, these transitory partnerships also reroute the discussion back to the financial side of the doubles game.
In a recent interview with Forbes, Jamie Murray – a doubles specialist – shared how conducive it had become for players to take up doubles as the sole means of a tennis career these days, as compared to in the past.
“Because the money is always increasing in tennis, it is a much more viable option to go down the doubles route a lot earlier than previous generations. Before, people would play singles and then when their ranking dropped, they played an extra few years of doubles. Now it is a genuine option to start off much younger and have a career in doubles,” the 33-year-old said.
Despite Murray’s upbeat attitude, these increases have not exactly trickled towards doubles, especially at the Slams including the upcoming edition of the US Open. For 2019, the USTA showed-off yet another hike in the prize-money coffer. The men’s and women’s singles champions will be awarded $3.8 million. In comparison, the men’s and women’s doubles teams winning the respective title will get $740,000. This sum gets further diluted for the mixed-doubles’ titlists who will get $160,000 as a team.
This is the third and final takeaway that emerged from Murray’s US Open call. For several of these singles players, intermittent doubles play is an option. For those who play only doubles, that is the only option they have. The doubles game requires similar effort – travel, expenses and fitness – the costs continue to outweigh the benefits. These momentary team formations are a gauge revealing the disparity of tennis’ two sides, visible yet obliviated beyond tokenism.
Svetlana Kuznetsova upsets Ashleigh Barty in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career
Russian wild card Svetlana Kuznetsova edged top seed this year’s Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty 6-2 6-4 in the semifinal of the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova, who is now ranked world number 153, scored her third win against top 10 players this week after beating former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Karolina Pliskova.
Barty missed her chance to regain world number 1 spot from Naomi Osaka, who was forced to retire from her quarter final.
Barty earned the first break of the match in the second game of the opening set, when Kuznetsova netted a backhand. Kuznetsova broke back in the third game with a smash winner and earned another break at 2-2 when Barty netted a backhand. Kuznetsova hit a return winner to build up a 5-2 lead. Barty asked a medical time-out to treat he right leg. Kuznetsova held serve at 15 to close out the opening set after 30 minutes.
Kuznetsova went up a break in the first game of the second set. Barty won just three points on return in the second set. Kuznetsova closed out the second set with three winners in the 10th game.
“I am really happy. I am not really an analyzing person, but on my intuition, I am doing so much better, not repeating so many of my mistakes, just playing smarter and wiser now. It’s been so many different things when I was off, so I just enjoyed time off. Honestly, I was not missing at all the travelling and all the stress when you play tournaments, but now I have missed it and I feel good. I feel joy staying here and being here. It definitely helped me to have some time off to see other things outside tennis”, said Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova set up a final against Madison Keys, who beat Sofia Kenin in straight sets. The Russian 34-year-old veteran player has qualified for her first final since last year, when she beat Donna Vekic in Washington.
“Madison is extremely tough. When she is on fire, it is really hard to play against her. It’s going to be a difficult match-up”, said Kuznetsova.
David Goffin reaches his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati
David Goffin beat Richard Gasquet 6-3 6-4 on an overcast afternoon to reach the first Masters 1000 final of his career and his 13th title match at ATP Tour level at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. Goffin has dropped just one set en route to the final.
Goffin is returning to his best form this summer under the guidance of former Swedish player Thomas Johansson. He reached the final in Halle and his first quarter final at Wimbledon. He received a walkover after Yoshihito Nishioka was forced to withdraw from the match due to food poisoning.
The Belgian player started the match with two consecutive holds before breaking at love to open up a 4-1 lead with a backhand winner down the line.
Goffin held his next service games to seal the opening set 6-3. Gasquet earned an early break to open 2-0 lead, but Goffin won five of the next six games with two breaks. The 2017 Nitto ATP Finals runner-up served out the win at love in the 10th game after 1 hour and 16 minutes, as Gasquet sent his backhand long.
Goffin reached the semifinal in Cincinnati last year, but he was forced to retire due to an arm injury.
“I am very happy. It’s a tournament I like and I have played the best tennis in the past few years. I am really happy to reach my first Masters 1000 final here. It’s a great moment for me.”
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