Despite Recent Losses, Rafael Nadal Isn’t At A Crisis Point Yet - UBITENNIS
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Despite Recent Losses, Rafael Nadal Isn’t At A Crisis Point Yet

How worried should we be about the 11-time French Open champion?

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Rafael Nadal (photo by Chryslène Caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

On Saturday a new milestone was achieved in the career of Rafael Nadal, but it was one the Spaniard never wanted.

 

Heading into the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open, the former world No.1 had a flawless record at that stage of the tournament. Dropping one set in 22 matches played when he reached the semi-finals or beyond. However, his winning streak was ended by a relentless Dominic Thiem as the Austrian surged to a shock 6-4, 6-4, triumph. Illustrating why some believe Thiem will become the next player to dominate the clay after Nadal.

Losses on the clay are rare for Nadal. During 2018 he won 26 out of 27 matches played on the surface (including the Davis Cup). However, this season he has already suffered two defeats at the hands of Fabio Fognini and Thiem. It is only the third time the Spaniard has failed to win either the Monte Carlo or Barcelona title and the first since 2015. Even more extraordinary is that he heads into May without a clay-court title to his name so far this year. Something that hasn’t happened to Nadal since 2004.

“It does me the same harm to lose here, than in Monte Carlo, than anywhere else. Honestly, it did not hurt me too much, last week in Monte Carlo it did me bad, they are completely different dynamics.” Nadal said following his loss to Thiem.
“There are defeats that hurt more and others that can help, this is one of them. It’s been a long time since I felt so good playing on the clay, it’s been the best match I’ve had since the clay tour began.”

Nadal’s recent trophy drought has been partly due to his string of injury setbacks. Over the past year he has been marred by problems with his abdominal and knees. On top of that, he also underwent a minor procedure on his ankle last November. Last year, Nadal withdrew or retired from 11 out of 12 tournaments that were played on a hard court.

Despite being one of the most successful players in the history of the sport, Nadal is only human. It is evident that his start and stop progression on the tour has affected his game. As it would with other top players. One area of his game he admits need work on is his serve. Against Thiem in Barcelona, he hit five double faults and won only 43% of the points behind his second serve.

“The serve [was] an important part of the match (Saturday) afternoon,” The world No.2 said. “I didn’t serve well at all, especially the second serve. So when I started to miss the second serve, I really lost a little bit of the confidence on trying to go for a good first serve, because I was without confidence on the second, so that affects the first.”

Despite his recent misfortunes both on and off the court, Nadal is confident that he is on the right path. This time of the year is statistically the most important for him. He is defending a total of 4680 points on the tour during the clay season. He has already dropped 500 points in Monte Carlo and 320 in Barcelona. However, his world No.2 position remains intact for the time being.

“I think I’ve done the hardest thing, lay a positive foundation to get ahead, a few days ago the situation was much more complicated.” Nadal stated. “I have once again enjoyed playing tennis and lost to a top-level opponent. I’ve been competitive until the end, but I’ve had to play more games like that to have a clearer option for victory.”

The next test for Nadal will be at the Caja Magica, venue of the Madrid Masters. He is a five-time champion of the tournament, which has unique conditions because of its altitude of around 2000 feet.

“Now comes a complicated week like Madrid, with conditions totally different from here.” He said.
“Right now I am in a position where I am happy, I can aspire to things that a week ago I saw complicated. Last week I did not advance, but this one I did.”

It is true that Nadal is yet to find the form that has earned him the nickname of ‘the king of clay.’ Raising the chances of another player potentially triumphing at Roland Garros later this year. However, the 17-time grand slam champion has still maintained his consistency on the tour. Since winning the French Open last year, he has reached the semi-finals or better in seven out of the right tournaments he has been able to play in.

Nadal may be experiencing difficulty on the court, but don’t write him off yet.

ATP

Svetlana Kuznetsova upsets Ashleigh Barty in Cincinnati to reach the 42nd final of her career

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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.  

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ATP

David Goffin reaches his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati

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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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Madison Keys battles past Simona Halep to reach the quarter final in Cincinnati

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Madison Keys beat this year’s Wimbledon champion Simona Halep 6-1 3-6 7-5 to advance to the quarter final at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati for the second consecutive year.

 

Madison Keys stopped a five-match losing streak against Simona Halep after a thrilling three-set match scoring her first win over the Romanian player in five years.

After beating Halep in their first head-to-head match in 2014, Keys lost five consecutive matches against her Romanian rival, including four in 2016. They met for the first time since the 2016 WTA Finals, where Halep beat Keys 6-2 6-4 in a round-robin match.

Keys never faced a break point and dropped just eight points in four service games and reeled off nine of the eleven points on Halep’s first serve to cruise through to a 6-1 win in 20 minutes.

In the second set Halep dropped her serve twice, but she converted three of the ten break points. The Romanian player held her serve at love for the first time in the match to win the second set sending the match to the third set.

Keys went up a 3-0 lead in the decider and earned four break points for 4-0. Halep converted her fifth break points at deuce and held serve at love to draw level to 3-3. Keys did not convert a match point at 5-4, but she sealed the win by breaking serve with a forehand winner in the 12th game at deuce to the delight of the home crowd.

“I think I played really smart tonight. Obviously I played a really good first set, and I don’t think she played her best tennis in the first set. I think the third set we played a pretty high level of tennis. I think it was the first time that I played a little bit more within myself and didn’t try to do too much too soon. She has been number 1 for a reason, won Grand Slams for a reason. I knew that she wasn’t just going to give up or give in. I knew the entire time I had to fully win the match before I could take a deep breath. I am really happy after losing my lead in the third set, I was able to get back. It definitely reminds me that when I am in the right mindset and playing some good tennis, I can compete with anyone”, said Keys.

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