10 Years Ago in Madrid: Nadal and Djokovic Play a Three-Set Semifinal for Over Four Hours - UBITENNIS
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10 Years Ago in Madrid: Nadal and Djokovic Play a Three-Set Semifinal for Over Four Hours

In the first year the tournament was played on clay, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic played their first truly epic contest.

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In 2009, Rafael Nadal had already solidified himself as the King of Clay.  Rafa was undefeated at Roland Garros, having won all four times he played there.  He arrived in Madrid as reigning champion at three of the four Majors, having finally defeated Roger Federer in the final of Wimbledon, and repeating that feat at the Australian Open.  

 

Comparatively, Novak Djokovic was yet to fully establish himself.  Djokovic only owned one Major title to Nadal’s six. Novak hadn’t advanced farther than the semifinals at the last four Majors, and wouldn’t return to a Major final for another 15 months.  But a victory over Nadal on clay might serve as a turning point in Novak’s career.

Coming into this event, Djokovic was yet to defeat Nadal on clay.  Overall Novak had only prevailed in four of their 17 matches to date, and had lost to Rafa twice on clay in just the past few weeks.   Neither man had dropped a set prior to this semifinal, but no one anticipated the extended drama that was about to play out.

In the first set, Djokovic broke Nadal in his first service game, which would be the only break of the set.  Novak was forcing Rafa to make uncharacteristic errors, as Nadal had 14 unforced and only five winners in the set.  Djokovic won the first set comfortably in 50 minutes, 6-3.

There wouldn’t be another break of serve until the third set.  In the second, Djokovic had a total of four break points in three different Nadal service games, but would fail to get a return into play on any of those four occasions.  When Rafa held for 6-5, Novak would give one of his sarcastic round of applause to the Spanish crowd when they cheered his error. Djokovic would exhibit many signs of frustration as the match went on, which could only encourage Nadal’s belief in mounting a comeback.  Nadal’s only break point of the set came at 6-5, which was also a set point, but Djokovic stayed on the offensive and forced a tiebreak. At 3-2 in the second set tiebreak, Rafa would smack a forehand right on the line to get the minibreak, and wouldn’t look back. Nadal would take the tiebreak 7-5, in a second set that lasted one hour and 37 minutes.

In the third set, Djokovic was highly agitated to start.  Nadal though would give him a chance to break at 2-1 with a poor service game.  On the second break point, Novak hit a huge forehand close to the line to grab a 3-1 lead.  But in true Rafa fashion, that’s when he applied even more pressure to Djokovic. At 30-30 in the next game, Nadal hit a drop shot winner to end a 32-shot rally, and Djokovic began to feel cramping in his left leg, nearly three hours into the match.  A forehand error would hand the break right back to Nadal. Those would be the last break points of the match. Djokovic would then take a medical timeout and have his legs massaged, and received further such treatment during changeovers as the set progressed.  Novak would get to deuce in two of Rafa’s forthcoming service games, including the 6-5 game, but never earned a chance to break.

After three hours and 40 minutes of play, they reached the third set tiebreak.  The first minibreak would go to Djokovic at 3-3, as Nadal hit a routine forehand long.  But Novak would again give the lead right back, hitting his own forehand long on the very next point.  At 4-4, Rafa had a great look at a crosscourt forehand pass for another minibreak, but it clipped the tape.  Djokovic would get another minibreak at 5-5, as Nadal hit a backhand long, giving Novak a match point on his serve.  On the 20th shot of the rally, Nadal would pull a huge forehand up the line for a winner to stay alive, getting his home crowd on their feet.

Djokovic immediately earned a second match point in a 19-shot rally off a Nadal backhand error, but Rafa would save it with a forehand winner on another 19-shot rally, despite a blistering Novak return on a second serve.  At 7-7, a service winner would give Nadal his first match point, which Djokovic saved with a drop shot/forehand passing shot combo. An unreturned serve gave Djokovic his third match point at 9-8, but his backhand return would land just long.  After they switched sides again, Rafa hit a huge forehand winner down the line off a great Djokovic return in the corner. And on his second match point at 10-9, another forehand down the line clinched the victory for Nadal, four hours and two minutes after they started.  Despite winning five more points overall, Djokovic went down in defeat, to the delight of the Spanish crowd.


This was of course a preview of many marathon matches to come in this rivalry.  Their long rallies with the court spread well beyond the painted lines would define men’s tennis for the next decade.  On this day, the difference was Nadal’s confidence, positivity, and relentless nature.

The next day in the final, an understandably depleted Nadal would suffer a rare loss to Roger Federer on clay.  A few weeks later, Nadal would shockingly go down in defeat at the French Open to Robin Soderling, his first of only two career defeats at Roland Garros.  That would leave the door open for Federer to win his only French Open title, completing his career Grand Slam. Djokovic would not overcome Nadal on clay until two years later at this same event.

 

 

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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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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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