The ATP Q2 Report Card - UBITENNIS
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The ATP Q2 Report Card

A review of how the biggest names on the men’s tour have faired on the tour within recent months.

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

Ubitennis examines the performances of the most notable players on the men’s tour during the second quarter of this season, as well as their prospects heading into the third.

 

Rafael Nadal

Q2 of 2018 was eerily similar to that of 2017 for Nadal. Rafa won his eleventh title at three different clay tournaments: Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and of course Roland Garros. He went 27-1 on the clay, with his only loss coming at the hands of Dominic Thiem in Madrid. Just as in Q1, he traded the number one ranking with Roger Federer, but heads into Q2 with a slight 50 point edge. A strong Wimbledon would extend that lead, as Rafa is only defending fourth round points. However, Nadal hasn’t been farther than the fourth round there since 2011. That was also the last time Rafa appeared in the final at The Championships, and he is just 8-5 since. The two-time Wimbledon champion has been unsuccessful of late in making the quick transition from clay to grass. He’s spoken of how his knees have bothered him on the surface, and he was the only top player to not play a grass court warm-up event. Considering all this, it’s hard to expect much of Nadal at Wimbledon. Looking ahead to the summer hard courts, Rafa is the defending US Open champion, but he’s never won that event in consecutive years. Nadal’s Q3 results will be driven by how his body holds up. Let’s not forget he withdrew or retired from every event he entered in the six months prior to the clay court season.

Roger Federer

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After sitting out the clay season for the second year in a row, Federer returned on German grass to reclaim the number one ranking with a title in Stuttgart. Just one week later in Halle, his loss to Borna Coric in the final would see the ranking crown passed back to Nadal. Roger has looked awfully cranky on court of late, dating all the way back to March in Indian Wells. He’s also now won just one of his last four tournaments entered. Roger has less momentum heading into Wimbledon this year than last year, when Federer had won three of his previous four tournaments. While he’s still a favorite at the All England Club, he should not be considered a prohibitive favorite. Last year on the summer hard courts, Federer’s results were hampered by a back injury. He didn’t win in Montreal, Cincinnati, or New York. With Nadal defending his US Open title from last year, August and September could be a good opportunity for Federer to put some distance between himself and Nadal in the rankings.

Dominic Thiem

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It was another strong clay court season for Thiem, who took one more step toward winning his first major title by making the French Open final. While Thiem was schooled by Nadal in that final, there’s no shame in that: in recent years Nadal has schooled everyone on clay in the best-of-five format. Can Thiem turn around his troubling trend of struggling throughout the rest of the season when the clay tournaments conclude? He didn’t get off to a great start in Halle, losing in his second match to Yuichi Sugita. Thiem is yet to be passed the fourth round at any major not played in Paris, having stalled at that stage in the last five non-clay majors. Grass is Dominic’s weakest surface, so his best chance for success will likely be in New York. There’s no good reason for Thiem’s poor results outside of clay to continue, except for fatigue due to overplaying during the first two quarters of the year.

Alexander Zverev

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Following a lackluster start to the year, Zverev began to turn his season around in Miami with a run to the final. On the clay, he went on a 13-match winning streak. This included back-to-back titles in Munich and Madrid, and a loss in the final of Rome to Nadal. And it may have taken three consecutive five-set victories, in which he came back from two-sets-to-one down in all three, but Sascha finally reached his first quarterfinal at Roland Garros. Zverev then lost in his opening round of Halle to Borna Coric, though perhaps some rest to end Q2 is what’s best for Sascha heading into Wimbledon. Zverev is now a solid number three in the world, but still 3,000 points behind Nadal and Federer. That being said, it’s not unfathomable that Zverev could approach their point totals if those two GOAT contenders falter in Q3. Now that Sascha has broken through to his first major quarterfinal, I would not be surprised to see him progress further at a Q3 major. The key will be for Zverev to avoid prolonged five-set battles in early rounds.

Juan Martin Del Potro

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Del Potro ended Q1 by going 15-1 with two titles and a final. After taking the month of April off to rest, his French Open prospects looked dim as he went just 2-2 in Madrid and Rome. He injured his groin at the Rome Masters, and no one was sure if he’d even play in Paris. But Juan Martin played his way into form at Roland Garros, reaching the semifinals there for the first time in nine years. While Del Potro is not thought of as a grass court specialist, he can be a threat on the surface. At the 2012 London Olympics, played at the All-England Club, he was outlasted by Federer in a three-set semifinal that went on for almost four-and-a-half hours, but bounced back to win the bronze medal match against Novak Djokovic. And one year later at The Championships, he played the longest men’s semifinal in Wimbledon history: an almost five-hour loss to Djokovic. And considering the big man’s hard court prowess, and his past success on the summer hard courts, Q3 is full of opportunities if Del Potro can remain healthy.

Novak Djokovic

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The curious case of Novak Djokovic continued in Q2 of 2018. He ended Q1 by splitting with relatively new coaches in Andre Agassi and Radek Stepanek, and re-hired most of his former coaching and training team members. Djokovic was just 6-6 on the year heading into Rome, where he finally made a nice run to the semifinals and played well against Rafael Nadal. At Roland Garros, despite appearing extremely frustrated at many times, he played rather well until the quarterfinals, where he was shocked by the unseeded Marco Cecchinato in the match and upset of the tournament. Djokovic again looked strong at Queen’s Club, but again wilted under pressure and lost in the final to Marin Cilic despite having a championship point. While Novak’s form continues to improve, he has yet to regain his competitive composure at crucial moments. Can the three-time Wimbledon champion be a factor for a fourth title? I’m not convinced Djokovic is quite ready yet to win a major, but I’d be surprised if he doesn’t excel on the North American hard courts.

Marin Cilic

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Cilic may be the player heading into Wimbledon with the most confidence. Coming off his second straight French Open quarterfinal on his weakest surface, he won his first title of the year on the grass of Queen’s Club. And the only player to defeat Cilic at Wimbledon in the past two years is Roger Federer. I’m sure Marin will be motivated to erase the memory of last year’s loss in the Wimbledon final to Federer, where he broke down sobbing mid-match out of frustration. Blisters on his feet prevented him from giving his best effort in one of the biggest matches of his career. The biggest issue Cilic continues to face though is tightening up during tense moments. This has been a recurring theme throughout the past year, most notably winning just one game in the fifth set of the Australian Open final. Perhaps saving championship point and going on to defeat Djokovic at Queen’s Club last week will help turn that trend around. Cilic should be a big threat at both Wimbledon and the US Open in Q3.

Borna Coric

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Here’s another Croat with a lot of momentum heading into Wimbledon. Following strong Q1 results, Coric went just 5-5 on the clay. But the 21-year-old bounced back on the grass, upsetting Sascha Zverev and Roger Federer to take the biggest title of his career in Halle. Coric has yet to go farther than the third round at a major, though I expect that will change pretty soon. With a new team surrounding him this season, he’s added muscle and power to his game. Borna now sits in ninth place in the year-to-date rankings. He now owns victories over not only Federer, but also Nadal and Andy Murray. While I don’t expect him to win a major just yet, he’s shown he’s fully capable of competing against, and defeating, the top names in the sport.

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Dominic Thiem Ousts Rafael Nadal For Maiden Australian Open Semi-Final

Dominic Thiem edged out world number one Rafael Nadal in four sets to reach his first Australian Open semi-final.

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Dominic Thiem (@AustralianOpen - Twitter)

Dominic Thiem edged out Rafael Nadal 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6) to reach the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time. 

 

In a stunning performance, Thiem eventually held his nerve to win all three tiebreaks in the match and secure a place in the last four.

The result means Nadal will lose his world number one if Novak Djokovic can win an eighth Australian Open title in Melbourne.

As for the Austrian, he will meet Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday.

In a rematch of the Roland Garros final, it was Thiem who had the more aggressive start to the match as he was red-lining the ball across the court and created break point opportunities.

Nadal’s clutch serving remained crucial though to survive the Austrian’s early surge. This was important as Nadal would soon show why he has won 20 grand slam titles as he played his best tennis when it mattered.

A good mix of pace and variety troubled Thiem as the Spaniard earned the first break of the match for a 5-3 lead in the opening set.

Despite the early setback, the Austrian continued to raise his level especially on the backhand side, producing a lot of winners. A forehand return winner sealed the break back immediately on his third opportunity.

Both men would continue to cancel each other out with insane cross-court angles as the opening set went to a tiebreak.

Dominating from the baseline, the 5th seed took control and wrapped up the opening set 7-6(3) in 68 gruelling minutes.

In the second set, Nadal continued to be the aggressor especially on the forehand as he realised how crucial the set was going to be.

An increased amount in unforced errors for Thiem proved costly as the world number one opened up a 4-2 lead in the second set.

But once again, Thiem struck back as a loose and nervy game from the Spaniard saw the Austrian level up at 4-4 in a tense point in the match.

Another tiebreak loomed as Thiem failed to take his chances after Nadal’s uncharacteristic unforced errors. However he didn’t make the same mistakes in the tiebreak as a net cord-forehand combination secured three consecutive points and a two set lead.

A two set advantage was a comfortable lead for Thiem but it doesn’t guarantee victory especially against one of the best competitors tennis has ever seen.

A cleaner set was produced from Nadal as he dug in deep to hold his service games and create some opportunities to break especially off the forehand.

Eventually those opportunities came as a tentative Thiem service game saw Nadal create two set points. A netted baseline shot from the world number 5 saw the Spaniard grab the third set as he roared in delight to the packed Rod Laver Arena crowd.

The momentum was now firmly with Nadal, who had better intensity as the forehand was firing against Thiem’s defensive skills.

However the Austrian’s mental strength has improved and he managed to overcome the Nadal storm by saving two break points as well as gaining the immediate break advantage.

There was trouble for the world number one now as Thiem’s serve was improving as he continued to outsmart and outpower the Spaniard.

Threats of a double break were quickly snuffed out by the 2009 champion and that would soon cost Thiem as he couldn’t serve out the match. The world number one took advantage of the Austrian’s nerves to break for 5-5.

Both men held their nerve afterwards to force a fourth set tiebreak, the third of the day. Yet again it would be Thiem who would win the tie-break as he booked his place in a maiden Australian Open semi-final.

After the match, Thiem declared his delight at one of the biggest victories of his career, “All the match was on a very good level, we both were in great form, that’s what can happen with two players in that form,” the Austrian said in his post-match interview.

I felt I was lucky in the right situations. It’s necessary as he’s one of the greatest of all times, one of the biggest legends in this sport, so you need a little luck to beat him.”

It was a stunning performance which now sees him meet good friend Alexander Zverev for a place in the final. As for Nadal his search for a second Australian Open title continues and could still lose his world number one ranking should Novak Djokovic win his eighth title in Melbourne.

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Australian Open Day 10 Preview: The Quarter-Finals Conclude

Wednesday is highlighted by a rematch of the French Open final from the last two years.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

By Matthew Marolf 

 

Rafael Nadal is one win away from securing his world No.1 ranking, though I’m sure he’s much more concerned with being three wins away from winning his record-tying 20th Major title. But standing in his way today is an opponent who has beaten him many times before. The other men’s quarter-final features the 2014 champion and a Next Gen standout who has excelled on the ATP tour, but is yet to make a deep run at a Major. On the women’s side, we have a pair of two-time Major champions against two women looking to reach their first Slam semi-final.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Dominic Thiem (5)

This is a marquee quarterfinal between two top five seeds. Nadal leads their head-to-head 9-4, with all but one of those matches taking place on clay. Their only hard court meeting was certainly a memorable one. In the 2018 US Open quarterfinals, they played for almost five hours, and past 2:00am, in a match decided by a fifth-set tiebreak.  Thiem should take a lot of positives from that encounter despite the loss, and he’s only improved his hard court game since that time.

Dominic has won four hard court titles in the past 16 months, including the Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells. And just two months ago, he reached the championship match at the ATP Finals, with wins over Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. This is his first time advancing to the quarters in Australia, but this run is not surprising based on his recent hard court resume. The slower courts in Melbourne this year work to Dominic’s favour, though Rafa will like that temperatures are forecast to rise over the next few days. But with this being a night match, it’ll get rather cool as this match goes on. Nadal has looked good through four rounds here, and passed a stern test supplied by Nick Kyrgios two days ago. However, I think this may be Thiem’s time to shine. He was oh-so-close to beating Nadal in their last hard court match, and he’s a much-improved player since hiring Nicolas Massu as his coach. In what will surely be a highly-competitive affair, I’m tipping Thiem to pull off the upset.

Sascha Zverev (7) vs. Stan Wawrinka (15)

Alexander Zverev (@usopen)

Can this be true? Zverev, who has historically become entangled in long matches during the first week of Majors, has won four rounds here without dropping a set. It’s even more startling when you consider he went 0-3 at the ATP Cup to start the year, where he had terrible troubles with his serve. In his post-match interview on Monday, he spoke of how finding peace in his personal life has lead to good results on court. The 22-year-old has reached his third Slam quarterfinal, and his first off clay. He’ll certainly be the fresher player today, as Stan not only battled an illness last week, but has already played two five-setters.

That includes his comeback victory over Daniil Medvedev two days ago. And Zverev is 2-0 against Wawrinka, with both victories coming on hard courts. But this is a case where experience at this stage of a Major will be crucial, and Stan has plenty of that. This is his fifth quarter-final in Melbourne, and his 18th at all four Majors. Wawrinka has proven himself to be a big-match player, and excels in the best-of-five format. As improved as Zverev’s serve has been this fortnight, Wawrinka remains the bolder and more aggressive player, which is usually critical in matches like this. With that in mind, I like Stan’s chances to return to the Australian Open semi-finals for the first time in three years.

Simona Halep (4) vs. Anett Kontaveit (30)

Simona Halep (@AustralianOpen – Twitter)

The 24-year-old Kontaveit has been a rising WTA star for a few years now, but she appears ready for her big breakthrough. This run has literally come out of nowhere, as an illness forced her to withdraw from the US Open and miss the rest of the 2019 season. Her coach, Nigel Sears, told the media that she was hospitalized for a week and had to undergo surgery. This resulted in a substantial weight loss, and a lack of activity for three or four months. But here she is into her first Major quarter-final, thanks to some impressive play. She dropped just one game to the sixth seed, Belinda Bencic, and came back from a set down to claim a tight match over a talented teenager, Iga Swiatek.

But today Kontaveit runs into an in-form Halep, who has reunited with Darren Cahill and is yet to drop a set at this event. These two players have similar, all-around games, though Halep is a bit more consistent, and a bit more skilled defensively. And Simona is 2-0 against Anett, having comfortably won the four sets they’ve played.  Halep should be favoured to reach her second semi-final in Melbourne.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (30) vs. Garbine Muguruza

Garbine Muguruza (@WeAreTennis – Twitter)

Speaking of Roland Garros and Wimbledon champions in good form, Garbine Muguruza is back. She seems to be rejuvenated with Conchita Martinez back as her coach. When her former coach, Sam Sumyk, missed Wimbledon a few years ago to undergo a medical procedure, Conchita filled in, and coached Muguruza to the title. Garbine split with Sumyk during the offseason, and is playing her best tennis in a few years with Martinez as a full-time coach.

But guess who Sumyk coaches now? That would be Pavlyuchenkova.  This union has also paid immediate dividends, though the 28-year-old Russian has been playing great tennis since the fall. Pavlyuchenkova outplayed a game Angelique Kerber on Monday, extending her record in the fourth round of Majors to 6-1. The problem is she’s 0-5 in Slam quarter-finals. And she’s 1-4 against Muguruza, with the only win coming via a Garbine retirement. Muguruza just has a bit more game than Pavlyuchenkova, and she’s been on fire since overcoming an illness last week. Garbine took out two top 10 seeds in the last two rounds, via scores of 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, and 6-3. While Sumyk will certainly have some sage advance for how to play against Muguruza, I don’t see it being enough considering Garbine’s current level.

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(VIDEO) Roger Federer Pulls Off Houdini Act To Set 50th Djokovic Meeting

Ubitennis is joined by Rene Stauffer to discuss Roger Federer’s miraculous win over Tennys Sandgren at the Australian Open.

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Roger Federer (@atptour - Twitter)

It was another dramatic day at the Australian Open as Roger Federer pulled off a miraculous comeback to edge out Tennys Sandgren 6-3 2-6 2-6 7-6(8) 6-3 to reach the Australian Open semi-finals. The Swiss saved 7 match points as he survived the three and a half hour clash to set up a 50th meeting with Novak Djokovic. Below Ubaldo Scanagatta and Rene Stauffer discuss Federer’s miraculous win against Sandgren. 

 

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