MADRID: Stefanos Tsitsipas’ journey to what he described as his ‘maximum potential’ has taken another significant step forward after he outlasted five-time champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, to reach the final of the Madrid Open.
Tsitsipas, who has won more matches on the tour than anybody else this season so far, produced a masterful display to tame and frustrate the world No.2. The ability of the Greek player to turn defense into offense drew both admiration and shock in Madrid. In total he produced 32 winners, of which 21 was from the forehand side, and saved 11 out of the 16 break points he faced.
“I felt I had more time to defend and attack, which might sound strange, but it felt like much better playing him on clay than on hard,” Tsitsipas commented about his latest match against the Spaniard.
“I served and volleyed pretty often, not that much, but I did come to the net a few times. I was returning much better today than any other day that I have played him.’
“Return games and keeping him in the rally on his service games, being patient, trying to find the height and the depth and opening the court. That was crucial.”
The king of clay headed into the match as the heavy favorite for multiple reasons besides his ranking. In semi-finals matches play at the tournament, Nadal had only lost twice in 10 appearances. Doing so to Andy Murray in 2012 and Gilles Simon in 2008. His head-to-head record against the Greek was 3-0 with him never losing a set against him. Furthermore, he had only been broken once in 27 service games played this week.
Those statistics proved irrelevant in Nadal’s latest match with the 20-year-old. Who is already an Australian Open semi-finalist and the highest ever ranked player from his country. The usually reliable Nadal was masterfully dismantled by Tsitsipas to the amazement of the Madrid crowd. During the opening set, the Greek saw a break advantage come and go twice. However, it was third time lucky for the world no.9. A return of the Nadal serve to the corner of the court rewarded him another break and the opportunity to serve the set out. Closing in on the surprising lead, he sealed the 6-4 lead with the help of a serve down the line followed by a backhand volley at the net.
With the prospect of a shock loss looming, a fiery Nadal responded with interest. Cheered on by his highly animated home crowd, the Spaniard began to display the play that saw him crush Stan Wawrinka on Friday. Winning 12 out of 14 points played during one stage in the second set. The dramatic recovery electrified the Caja Magica as a Tsitsipas backhand flying out enabled the five-time champion to force the match into a decider.
Despite Nadal’s resurgence, it failed to deter his younger rival. Engaged in a royal battle on the court, Tsitsipas rallied to a double break advantage to move a game away from a memorable win. Although Nadal refused to back down as he retrieved one of those breaks to narrow the margin, but it was too little too late. Three times match points came and went before the underdog secured one of the most memorable victories in his career. A Nadal backhand into the net sent him the final to his disbelief.
“It’s not been a good match.” A disappointed Nadal reflected. “I fought and did a couple of good things mentally. I trained around 5pm and it was very hot but it was more windy, colder.”
“I felt the ball better yesterday. It’s not been my best night. My opponent has been better when that happens you lose.’ He added.
The loss continues Nadal’s quest for the first title of 2019. Hampered by injury earlier in the season, it is the first time he hasn’t reached the final in either Monte Carlo or Madrid since 2004 when he missed those tournaments altogether.
“I think that it’s more normal what is happening right now, that what happened in the last 14 years, let’s say,” Nadal explained. “I think I have tennis ahead of me. I have time ahead of me. I’ll be able to try to win this kind of tournament that I was not able to win this year. And what I have to do is to be fit and to play properly and a high tennis level.”
Tsitsipas will play Novak Djokovic in the final on Sunday, who he defeated in Canada last year. The world No.1 prevailed in two tiebreakers over Dominic Thiem in his semi-final match. Djokovic is a two-time champion and last won the title back in 2016.
“I have never faced him on clay so I don’t know what to expect. I’m going to try to analyze some things to see the way he tries to play on clay.” The next gen star detailed about his preparation for Sunday’s final.
“I have seen plenty of his matches, but I’m going to try to adapt to the way he is playing on clay as fast as I can because I’m pretty sure he is not easy on clay, as on hard.”
Nadal is the 10th top 10 player Tsitsipas has defeated in his career.
Playing Clay Events After Wimbledon Was A Mistake, Says Diego Schwartzman
The former French Open semi-finalist is seeking to win his first title since March 2021 at the Tel Aviv Open this week.
Diego Schwartzman will likely reevaluate his schedule for next year after admitting that part of his plans for this summer backfired.
The world No.17 enters into the final quarter of the season with 31 wins against 22 losses on the Tour but is yet to win a title. Although he did reach back-to-back finals back in February in Argentina and Brazil. He has won two out of eight matches against top 10 opposition, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas at the ATP Cup and Felix Auger-Aliassime in Barcelona.
Reflecting on his performance, Schwartzman admits that his decision to return to European clay after playing at Wimbledon was a mistake. He lost his second match in Gstaad to Pablo Carreno Busta and then his first in Hamburg to Emil Ruusuvori.
“It’s difficult to play at the same level every tournament, I’ve made a bad decision playing clay tournaments after Wimbledon, I didn’t have time to rest,” he said during his pre-tournament press conference at the Tel Aviv Open. “I paid the price and had some bad losses. But I started to feel much better in USA hard court season, lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas who reached the final in Cincinnati and to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open. Now I am feeling very good, I really love playing indoor tournaments.”
The 30-year-old has headed straight to Tel Aviv from the Laver Cup where Roger Federer played the last match of his career. Despite Schwartzman’s Team World winning the title for the first time, his only contribution to the tie saw him lose 6-1, 6-2, to Tsitsipas.
Retirement was very much the topic of conversation during the Laver Cup with others such as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic questioned by reporters about their plans in the sport. As for Schwartzman, he stayed coy about how much longer he would continue playing after saying in the past he might stop at the age of 33.
“33 — is a good age to retire, isn’t it? South Americans are in different situations compared to European players. We travel too much, and sometimes we are not coming back home for 2-3 months, while Europeans can fly home every week. It’s tough,” he said.
“As for Roger — he’s a special player, I think he is just the greatest in our sport.”
The Argentine is seeded third this week in Israel and will begin his campaign against Arthur Rinderknech who defeated qualifier Marius Copil in his opening match.
Laver Cup Daily Preview: Team Europe Goes for a Fifth Straight Laver Cup
Heading into Day 3, the 2022 Laver Cup is feeling extremely familiar. Team Europe has an 8-4 advantage, and only needs two wins on Sunday to secure their fifth consecutive Laver Cup. Team World needs to win three matches to pull off the upset and obtain their first.
Sunday’s play gets underway in London at 12:00pm local time. And each match on Sunday is worth three points.
Matteo Berrettini and Andy Murray (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime and Jack Sock (Team World) – 12:00pm
Berrettini was victorious in both singles and doubles on Saturday, defeating Auger-Aliassime in singles, and teaming with Djokovic to overcome Sock and de Minaur in doubles. So Matteo gained victories over both of his Sunday opponents on Saturday. Murray lost to de Minaur in singles on Friday. Andy and Jack are the most accomplished doubles players in this match, as Sock is pretty much Team World’s doubles specialist. If he and Felix cannot pull of the victory on Sunday, it could be a pretty short day.
Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World)
Like Berrettini, Djokovic won in singles and doubles on Saturday, comfortably dispatching of Tiafoe in singles. While it was his first match in over two months, Novak showed no rust whatsoever. Auger-Aliassime’s loss to Berrettini on Saturday will not help his confidence against the 21-time Major champion.
Novak and Felix have only played once before, and that occurred four months ago in Rome on clay. It was a pretty tight affair, but Djokovic prevailed 7-5, 7-6(1). And there’s not much evidence to support a different outcome on Sunday. Novak is surely eager to re-assert his authority after missing so much of this season due to his vaccination status.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – If Necessary
Tsitsipas easily beat Diego Schwartzman on Friday, dropping just three games. He is 3-2 against Tiafoe, and 3-1 on hard courts. However, Frances claimed their most recent encounter, last fall in Vienna, which was also on an indoor hard court.
Casper Ruud (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – If Necessary
Ruud defeated Sock on Friday, while Fritz defeated Norrie on Saturday. If this match takes place, it will be their first career meeting.
The full Laver Cup schedule is here.
Laver Cup Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic to Play Singles and Doubles on Saturday
In the wake of Roger Federer’s incredibly emotional retirement on Day 1, the focus of this event shifts to the rest of the competitors on Day 2. And for the first time in the five-year history of the Laver Cup, Team World goes into Day 2 without a deficit. With both Federer and Rafael Nadal replaced by alternates for Day 2 and Day 3, is this Team World’s opportunity to capture their first Laver Cup?
Each day, this preview will look at all four scheduled matches, while taking an extended look at the most notable match of the day. Saturday’s day session gets underway in London at 1:00pm local time, and the night session at 7:00pm. And each match on Saturday is worth two points.
Matteo Berrettini (Team Europe) vs. Felix Auger-Aliassime (Team World) – 1:00pm
These two good friends have played four times, with Berrettini winning on three of those occasions. Matteo’s wins came three years ago in the final of Stuttgart on grass, in the quarterfinals of last year’s Wimbledon, and a year ago in this event. Auger-Aliassime’s only win occurred last summer in Cincinnati. Matteo is coming off a quarterfinal run in New York, as well as three victories last week in Davis Cup. Felix was upset in the second round of the US Open by Jack Draper, and went 2-1 in Davis Cup.
Cameron Norrie (Team Europe) vs. Taylor Fritz (Team World) – Second in the Day Session
Norrie was also an alternate in last year’s Laver Cup, but did not play. Fritz was a part of Team World in 2019, when he went 1-1 in singles, defeating Dominic Thiem during Sunday’s play in a must-win match to keep his team alive. Cam is now 45-22 on the year, while Fritz is 36-17. Both men achieved their best-ever Major performances two months ago at Wimbledon. They played each other just last week in Davis Cup, with Norrie prevailing after three tight sets. Overall they have split 10 previous meetings.
Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Frances Tiafoe (Team World) – 7:00pm
Is Tiafoe ready to upset another member of “The Big Three” on Saturday? He earned the biggest win of his career by taking out Rafael Nadal at the US Open, and defeated Nadal and Federer in doubles on Day 1 alongside Jack Sock. Meanwhile, this will be the first match for Djokovic in over two months, since he won the Wimbledon final over Nick Kyrgios. The unvaccinated Novak was unable to travel to North America for the hard court summer season.
Djokovic has only played seven tournaments this year, amassing a record of 23-5. Tiafoe is 26-19, and is coming off his exciting semifinal run in New York. Their only previous matchup was at the 2021 Australian Open, when Novak defeated Frances in four sets. Frances is certainly the much more match-tough player on this day. But despite his recent inactivity, Djokovic should still be considered the favorite.
Matteo Berrettini and Novak Djokovic (Team Europe) vs. Alex de Minaur and Jack Sock (Team World) – Second in the Night Session
Novak will have only a few minutes of rest ahead of this doubles match, so the length of his match with Tiafoe could impact the result here. This will be Novak’s first time playing doubles since last year’s Davis Cup finals. Berrettini played three doubles matches this past January at the ATP Cup, going 1-2. De Minaur overcame Andy Murray in singles on Friday in what was a grueling contest, while Sock was defeated in singles and victorious in doubles.
The full Laver Cup schedule is here.
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