French Open Day 15 Preview: The Men’s Final - UBITENNIS
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French Open Day 15 Preview: The Men’s Final

Rafael Nadal goes for his astonishing 11th title at Roland Garros, against the only man to defeat him on clay in the past two years.

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

World Number One Rafael Nadal’s level of dominance on clay over the past 13 years cannot be overstated.  

 

He is 85-2 at Roland Garros, with 10 titles and a 21-0 combined record in semifinals and finals. Rafa owns 56 career titles on clay, with only eight losses in clay court finals.  It’s been over three years since he lost a final on clay. Earlier this year, he won his eleventh title at two different clay court events: in Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He is now 414-36 lifetime on clay, an all-time best 92% winning percentage after 450 career matches on the surface.  Nadal needs to win this match to hold onto his number one ranking. Rafa comes into this final having only dropped one set in the tournament, and with only one loss on clay this year. That loss, as well as his only clay court loss last year, came at the hands of Dominic Thiem. The Austrian also beat Nadal on clay in Buenos Aires on 2016, though Nadal has six career clay victories against Thiem.  They’ve actually never faced each other on any other surface.

For Thiem, this is his first career major final, on the heels of two consecutive semifinal appearances at Roland Garros.  This is the only Grand Slam event where he’s advanced passed the fourth round. Following his heartbreaking five-set loss to Juan Martin Del Potro in the fourth round of last year’s US Open, Dominic went just 3-6 on the ATP tour through the end of 2017.  Thiem stalled again in the fourth round at the next major, getting upset by 97th-ranked Tennys Sandgren in another five-setter.  But as usual his results picked up on the clay, with his title in Buenos Aires being his first in one year’s time.  Eight of Thiem’s ten career titles have come on clay, with his most recent triumph coming the week prior to the French Open in Lyon.  He’s dropped three sets during this fortnight, so he’s not advanced to this stage as cleanly as Nada.l Despite this being his fifth straight week of play, and already his 12th tournament of the year, he should still be fresh following two straight-set victories in the quarters and semis.  He also had two days off between those rounds, whereas Nadal played on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday due to rain delaying the conclusion of his quarterfinal.

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So does Thiem have a chance?  A small one, yes. He’ll take confidence from his three career victories over Nadal on clay, though none of those were best-of-five.  It will be critical to grab an early lead, as Nadal is a great frontrunner, especially on this surface. Rafa may be vulnerable at the beginning of the match: he’s gotten off to slow starts in both of his last two rounds.  Thiem will need to hit big without completely going for broke, and will need a lot of winners. Both men will be standing near the front row behind them when receiving serve, so it will be crucial for both to quickly establish court positioning near or within the baseline early in the point, as Paul Annacone outlined this week on Tennis Channel in the US.  But Thiem will have many factors working against him, such as his one-handed backhand, Nadal’s experience edge, and Nadal’s current momentum. And remember: Rafa has never lost at this stage of the French Open. I don’t see that changing on Sunday. While I hope Thiem gives us a competitive final, an outcome other than an historic eleventh crown for the king of clay would be shocking.

Route to the final

Nadal
R1 d. (LL) Simone Bolelli 64 63 76(9)
R2 d. Guido Pella 62 61 61
R3 d. No. 27 Richard Gasquet 63 62 62
R4 d. Maximilian Marterer 63 62 76(4)
QF d. No. 11 Diego Schwartzman 46 63 62 62
SF d. No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro 64 61 62
Total time on the court – 15:24

Thiem
R1 d. (Q) Ilya Ivashka 62 64 61
R2 d. Stefanos Tsitsipas 62 26 64 64
R3 d. Matteo Barrettini 63 67(5) 63 62
R4 d. No. 19 Kei Nishikori 62 60 57 64
QF d. No. 2 Alexander Zverev 64 62 61
SF d. Marco Cecchinato 75 76(10) 61
total time on the court – 13:36

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Tokyo Olympics Daily Preview: Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova Play for Gold

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Belinda Bencic was understandably quite emotional after her semifinal win on Thursday (twitter.com/ITFTennis)

The women’s singles gold medal match headlines Saturday’s schedule, featuring two surprising finalists.  Prior to this event, both Belinda Bencic and Marketa Vondrousova had almost as many losses on the year as wins, and no titles between them.  But on Saturday, they will compete for the biggest win of their careers.

 

Day 8 at the Ariake Tennis Park also includes four bronze medal matches.  For the fourth day in a row, Novak Djokvoic will play twice.  In men’s singles, he faces Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.  In mixed doubles, the men’s singles No.1 will be across the court from the women’s singles No.1, Ash Barty.  And the bronze medalists will also be decided in women’s singles and doubles.  Bronze medal matches at the Olympic Games often provide some of the most emotional moments of the year, as the losers leave Tokyo with no hardware whatsoever.

Saturday’s play gets underway at 3:00pm local time, and it is forecast to be another toasty day in Tokyo.

Novak Djokovic (1) [SRB] vs. Pablo Carreno Busta (6) [ESP] – 3:00pm on Centre Court

This is the third time out of the last four Olympics that Djokovic finds himself in the men’s singles bronze medal match.  13 years ago in Beijing, Novak defeated James Blake to win the bronze.  Nine years ago in London, he lost to Juan Martin Del Potro, and walked away empty-handed.  On Saturday in Tokyo, he faces a player he is 4-1 against, with his only loss coming in the form of his shocking default at last summer’s US Open.  That was the day Djokovic struck a ball in anger after losing the 11th game of the first set, which hit a lines judge in the throat.  If not for that error in judgment, Novak might already own 21 Major titles.  He avenged that embarrassing loss to Carreno Busta a month later in Paris, defeating the Spaniard in the fall version of Roland Garros.  Outside of the 2020 US Open, their only hard court encounter was a year earlier in Cincinnati, which Djokovic won in straight sets. 

Novak was remarkably despondent after suffering two losses on Friday, especially after failing to close out Sascha Zverev despite being up a set and a break.  He played some lackluster tennis in the second half of that semifinal, and he will not enjoy playing at 3:00pm on Saturday, the hottest part of the day.  But he is still a favorite to win his second bronze medal in men’s singles, as there’s nothing on court Carreno Busta does especially better than Djokovic.  Novak should be able to control his destiny on this day.

Belinda Bencic (9) [SUI] vs. Marketa Vondrousova [CZE] – Third on Centre Court

This should be a highly-compelling battle, between two players who utilize the variety in their games extremely well.  Their only previous meeting took place earlier this year on a hard court in Miami, with Vondrousova prevailing 6-4 in the third.  The 22-year-old Czech was a shocking finalist two years ago at the French Open.  She was sidelined by injury for about six months shortly thereafter, and didn’t fully rediscover that form until this past week.  She only possesses one career WTA title, which came over four years ago at a WTA 250 event in Switzerland, Bencic’s home country. 

24-year-old Belinda has endured plenty of injury setbacks in her career, but is the more accomplished player with four career titles, all of them at either the 500 or 1000 level.  Her backhand may be the best shot on the court, but Vondrousova’s lefty serve, paired with frequent drop shots, have proven to be a dangerous combination throughout this event.  In her last eight sets played, no opponent has won more than four games.  And those opponents include two top four seeds: Naomi Osaka and Elina Svitolina.  Bencic has survived much tighter battles to this stage, claiming a trio of consecutive three-setters. 

Between her victories over Osaka and Svitolina, Vondrousova averaged 77% of first serve points won.  If she can maintain that against Bencic, she’ll be hard to overcome.  But with a gold medal in the balance, Belinda’s experience edge in big matches should prove crucial.  And she has previous success representing her country, as she won back-to-back Hopman Cups alongside Roger Federer.  Belinda Bencic is the favorite to stand atop the medal podium on Saturday night in Tokyo.

Other Notable Matches on Saturday:

Elina Svitolina (4) [UKR] vs. Elena Rybakina (15) [KAZ] – They have split their two previous matches, though neither were on a hard court.  While this is not exactly a tournament final, it’s worth noting Svitolina is 15-3 lifetime in career finals, which is a lot different than Rybakina’s record of 2-5, with her most recent loss in a final coming at the hands of Svitolina.

Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina [ROC] vs. Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani [BRA] – Kudermetova and Vesnina were narrowly defeated in the Wimbledon final 9-7 in the third, and lost another close match in Thursday’s semifinals, decided by a 10-point tiebreak.  Pigossi and Stefani do not usually team together, but they saved four match points in their second round matchup.

Ash Barty and John Peers [AUS] vs. Nina Stojanovic and Novak Djokovic [SRB] – It is an extremely rare occasion for both the men’s and women’s No.1’s, as well as the reigning Wimbledon champions, to share a court.  Barty and Peers are the far more experienced doubles players, though Djokovic will surely play some inspired tennis as he tries to win another medal for Serbia.

Saturday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Cameron Norrie ‘Happy’ With Performance After Extending Winning Run Against Kyrgios

Cameron Norrie spoke about his confidence after reaching the last eight in Atlanta.

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Cameron Norrie (@the_LTA - Twitter)

Cameron Norrie is satisfied with his recent performances after reaching the Atlanta quarter-finals.

 

The in-form Brit extended his winning streak to five matches after defeating Nick Kyrgios in Atlanta.

Norrie eased to victory with a 6-1 6-4 win in a match which saw three breaks of serve from the Brit to make the last eight.

After winning his maiden title in Los Cabos, Norrie now is starting to feel confident in his game.

In his post-match interview the world number 29 insists that he is happy with his level as he continues his great season, “It’s very nice to be back here in Atlanta,” Norrie explained.

“It’s good to have Nick back… really enjoyed the match and really happy with my level. It’s cool to be playing at this level and [I am] happy and satisfied to be getting some wins. I’m enjoying my tennis.”

Next for Norrie will be Emil Ruusuvuori as he looks to continue his momentum and solidify his status as the man to beat in US hard court swing.

The other quarter-finals will see Los Cabos finalist Brandon Nakashima take on Jordan Thompson, Taylor Fritz will face fellow American Reilly Opelka.

While five-time champion John Isner will face Christopher O’Connell in the last eight with the American serving 49 aces in two matches so far.

Play will begin at 17:00 BST while Norrie’s match will likely take place at 20:00 BST.

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Alexander Zverev Ends Djokovic’s Golden Slam Dreams At Olympics

Alexander Zverev stunned Novak Djokovic in three sets to end the Serb’s dreams of winning the golden slam.

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Alexander Zverev (@Tennis - Twitter)

Alexander Zverev has ended Novak Djokovic’s dreams of winning the golden slam after a 1-6 6-3 6-1 victory in Tokyo.

 

Djokovic will now have to win gold in the mixed doubles if he wants to leave Tokyo with the ultimate prize. As for Zverev he will play Karen Khachanov for the gold medal in the singles.

“I feel sorry for Novak, but he’s won 20 grand slams, 550 masters series or whatever, you can’t have everything,” Zverev told the Olympic News service.
“He’s the greatest player of all time, he will win the most grand slams out of anybody on tour, but I’m also happy that I’m in the final.”

Djokovic got off to a better start and after the first three games of the match went on serve it was the Serb with the first breakpoint of the match as he got the first break of the match. Djokovic was relentless after that getting the double break after consolidating it and serving out the first set in dominating fashion.

The second set saw the world No.1 get the first break as he looked in command heading into a 3-2 lead. However Zverev provided the perfect response as he broke straight back and sealed four games in a row to force the match into a deciding set.

The Hamburg native carried the momentum into the third and had two breakpoints in the first game which resulted in a break to take an early 1-0 lead but faced some heavy pressure from the world number one the very next game.

The world number five saved three breakpoints before consolidating the break and went up a double break breaking the Serb again with a superb passing shot.

It was one-way traffic from there and the German managed to get one more break of serve to seal the match and the win and set up a gold medal match final with the Russian Karen Khachanov.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you’re going to bring the medal back to your house, back home to Germany. It’s incredible beating the best player in the world undoubtedly right now and in this season,” said Zverev.
“It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I’m very happy right now. But yet there’s still one match to go.”

Zverev and Khachanov are tied 2-2 in their official head to head and both players will be bringing medals home on Saturday.

As for Djokovic he will play Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match in singles and still has a chance to win gold in the mixed doubles with Nina Stojanovic.

They face Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev later on Friday in the semi-finals.

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