Rafael Nadal Wins Number Eleven - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal Wins Number Eleven

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Rafael Nadal (zimbio.com)

By Cheryl Jones

 

Last year Spanish dynamo, Rafael Nadal made history. He became the first man to win ten titles in a Single Grand Slam. This year, much as the last several years, he arrived at the same location, at the same time. There was a bit of a surprise waiting across the net. It wasn’t one of the usual “other” three – (They are Roger Federer who chose not to be here this year. Andy Murray is recovering from an injury isn’t here either. Novak Djokovic left early, having been defeated by an Italian upstart, Marco Cecchinato.) – who all have for quite a number of years consistently been his opponents as tournaments played on all surfaces are thinned to the last few before a champion is crowned. Actually it was because there’s a new guy in town and he’s from Austria.

Dominic Thiem is a twenty-four-year-old who owns a flowingly swift backhand and a complete grab bag of perfect shots that much to the consternation of other players are outright winners most of the time. Thiem is from Wiener Neustadt. He’s been playing tennis since he was six years old. When he became a professional in 2011, he was touted as someone to watch by most tennis aficionados who pay attention to upcoming stars. It was a good call. His performance in the 2018 Roland Garros battle on clay has been steady and brilliant all at the same time. He whittled away at the lineup on his side of the draw in Paris and after defeating the top “Next Gen” player Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, he moved on to Italian, Cecchinato in the semifinals, and even though the Italian player had vanquished Djokovic in the quarterfinals he was no match for the stealthy Austrian.

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To gain his now very familiar place, on Roland Garros’ final Sunday, Nadal managed to defeat an equal number of players along his way and when the two men strolled on to the court, the crowd went wild. They were looking forward to a great match, and they got one.

On paper the match itself appeared close. In reality, no matter how well the Austrian returned, Nadal had an answer that was served with exclamation points. Midway in the third set, Nadal moved to his sideline seat and yanked at the bandage that has been encircling his wrist the entire tournament. (When he was asked about the bandages earlier in the tournament, he said it was due to the humidity and the perspiration that might incidentally flow onto his hands and then his blister prone fingers.) He also tried pulling the wraps of adhesive tape that covered several of the fingers on his left hand, and when a medical staff person arrived on the scene, Nadal grimaced as the intervener massaged his forearm. Nadal wasn’t really idle, he reached with his right hand into his racquet bag and pulled out a pill, which he downed with a bit of water and soon he was back on the court, minus a point that was deducted for the unscripted timeout. Each change over from that point forward was spent with the same medic massaging that same left forearm and Rafa continued to grimace and took yet another pill. It must have been traumatic for Nadal and Thiem, too. Quite soon, the match was complete and surprise, surprise – Rafael Nadal had won his eleventh Roland Garros. The 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 score was more than enough to ensure the historic win for Nadal.

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The Spaniard, as always, took a bite out of the Coupe des Mousquetaires and grinned from ear to ear for the cameras that were snapping shots from every direction. He held the trophy high and as he pulled it to his chest as the Spanish National Anthem played, he cried tears of joy and hugged the coupe closer and closed his eyes, likely already planning to add yet another coupe just like the ones already in his trophy case – next year. That would make it an even twelve, and his need for symmetry could be satisfied with the perfect arrangement. (In case anyone has missed his need for that balance just check out his water bottle line-up next time he’s on court.)

Thiem had nothing to regret about his performance this afternoon. Nadal has seldom allowed anything to be a roadblock in his path to the final during Roland Garros. At 32 years old, and now with eleven wins here, he has been nearly perfect each time he has competed in Paris.

Thiem was seeded seventh to Nadal’s number one. In 2011 when Nadal had won his sixth Coupe, Thiem was runner-up in the Junior Boys. He lost a squeaker to Bjorn Fratangelo of the United States, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. Thiem took the loss in stride and won his next three singles tournament. He actually finished 2011 with a win in the Dunlop Orange Bowl. From that point forward, he has been on a march to his current number seven ranking.

He spoke at length about the match and praised Nadal’s astounding achievement. He had watched Nadal from the comfort of his sofa eleven years ago and nearly every year thereafter. When asked which he preferred, he smiled and said, “Physically I enjoyed more watching him on the couch.”

He went on to say that it was wonderful that he had made his way to a final and iterated that “Still, I’m disappointed. It was a final. I really wanted to win.”

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When asked if he was surprised that it took until the seventh game of the second set before the umpire warned Nadal about his usual “too much” time taken between points, he said, “I didn’t say something to him because I don’t ever have a watch, so I don’t know how many seconds anyone is taking.” (Rumbles overheard from many an onlooker have suggested a timer with a “bing” sounding when the approved 25 seconds have expired.) It didn’t seem to matter in the long run, though. The extra three minutes that Rafa took dealing with his confusing finger injury merely cost the Spaniard a point and evidently he may have ascertained it was somewhat a “cost of doing business” demerit.

In his after-match interview, he said that the problem with his hand was a confusing cramp in his middle finger. He felt as if the wrist wrap had impeded the circulation to that digit and it frightened him. Evidently it all worked out and when the match was over, he remained Number One in the world for yet another week.

For once, Nadal didn’t serve one ace. Thiem managed seven of them, but all to no avail. Thiem’s unforced errors were nearly double what the Spaniard’s were. In the end, all of the statistics were immaterial. Rafael Nadal is staying where he feels best – at the top of the heap – The King of Clay.

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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Andrey Rublev Reflects On Recent Struggles Ahead Of Monte Carlo Title Defence

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Andrey Rublev admits he continues to struggle to maintain his emotions on the court after his disqualification from a tournament earlier this year.

The Russian world No.6 hopes to get back on track after a disappointing American swing where he won just one out of three matches played. In Indian Wells, Rublev beat ex-No.1 Andy Murray before falling in straight sets to Jiri Lehecka. Then in Miami, he lost his opening match against Tomas Machac. 

“At Indian Wells, I was so focused on trying to control my movements that I was completely stuck,” the 26-year-old recently commented
“I had no energy left, I had no strength. And in Miami, I exploded. I could no longer control myself, my actions, my nerves. I felt paralyzed, I couldn’t move.”

As to why Rublev felt so paralyzed, he acknowledges it could be linked to an incident that happened earlier in the season. At the Dubai Tennis Championships he was defaulted from his semi-final clash against Alexander Bublik for unsportsmanlike conduct after he was accused of saying an obscenity in his native language at an official. He then successfully appealed against the penalty and retained the ranking points and prize money he earned, barring a fine of $36,400 for a code violation.

“Maybe what happened in Dubai remains in my mind,” said Rublev. 

Rublev’s focus now switches to his title defence at the Monte Carlo Masters. It is the only Masters 1000 event he has won so far in his career. 

“I feel better. These last two weeks I have been training a lot. But it’s one thing to train well, it’s another to play well in a match.” He evaluated of his current form. 

Rublev has yet to defend a Tour-level title so far in his career. Should he do so, he will become only the fifth player in the Open Era to win multiple Monte Carlo trophies. 

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