2019 French Open: Where The 'Fedal' Twain Shall Meet Again - UBITENNIS
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2019 French Open: Where The ‘Fedal’ Twain Shall Meet Again

The re-igniting of the Fedal rivalry at the French Open has renewed implications, going beyond the event itself

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Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Photo Credit: Live Tennis

For a while now, make that years’ worth, we have been waiting for a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal clash at the US Open. The draws have been made, either they have been grouped in the same half – and one has fallen short – or they have happened to be in different halves entirely, and have never met.

 

One reason for the higher-than-usual (in the last couple of years) pangs to see Fedal square-off in New York is because of how each of their meetings in the three other Majors has been. We have seen Nadal end Federer’s reign as the favourite at Wimbledon, and the Australian Open. The first result coming about after multiple attempts while achieving the second, in a far easier manner.

But it is what we have had the opportunity to see in Roland Garros that has kept this rivalry distinct and blazing, impervious to time passing by. Twelve of their previous 38 matches have come at the three Majors. Five of these 12 meetings have come by in Paris, four in finals and once in that fated semi-final in 2005, which in the truest of terms was the origin of this rivalrous duopoly. And, it had to happen the way it did for audiences to understand the significance of what this rivalry was and would continue to be.

Though, for a moment, let us imagine an alternate reality. A reality in which the Swiss, instead of the Spaniard, won their first meeting and the ones to follow thereafter. Let us think of an alt-verse where results at the 2008 French Open and Wimbledon did not turn out the way they did. And it was the Mallorcan in place of the Basel-born who needed a coincidental intervention to halt the latter in his tracks in Paris, the following year.

If all of these had transpired, would we have felt the same way about the two being the nemesis of each other? What hold would each player have had in our lives? Would we be thinking of them as a duology, where each player is one half of a pair that has added to men’s tennis’ qualitative appeal?

Indeed, they would have been rivals still but we would not have seen them as equals – as the greatest of the game – despite the clear unevenness in their head-to-head, albeit in Federer’s favour. Most of all, if they had been slated to play in the semi-final of the French Open nearly a decade-and-a-half removed since their first meeting there under such envisioned reality, perhaps, we would not have been this excited about the prospective match-up.

The reality as we know it is so much better. In its moments of exultation and in times of despair – for the players, their fans and even for the supposedly unbiased viewers – reality has presented the players as humans. Each match between Federer and Nadal has seen both players put forth this quality – humanness – at the forefront while vying for wins. Regardless of how easy or hard the results have come by for either player.

When Federer and Nadal step onto the court for their 39th meeting, they will try to do the same all over again, impassive to time’s turning. As Federer said, “Like against any player, there is always a chance. Otherwise, nobody will be in the stadium to watch because everybody already knows the result in advance…For me to get to Rafa is not simple. It took five matches here for me to win to get there. That’s why I’m very happy to play Rafa, because if you want to do or achieve something on the clay, inevitably, at some stage, you will go through Rafa, because he’s that strong and he will be there.

In a way, this match is also about getting closure, specifically in the French capital.

Where Wimbledon and the Australian Open have given us relative cessation, the French Open has remained in limbo in its one-sidedness. This contest, coming at a time when both have different highs at their backs, promises to be an interesting pivot for them to revisit their rivalry and their legacy at the Majors.

Even as it rekindles exigency for more of their matches at the Majors. Not only in Flushing Meadows later in the year, but perhaps in the soon-to-follow Wimbledon championships, too, in a unique kind of second wind.

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Miami Open Daily Preview: Which of the Men’s Semifinalists Will Play for Their First Masters 1000 Title on Sunday?

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Roberto Bautista Agut is the only remaining man who has previously reached a Masters 1000 final (twitter.com/atptour)

The Spanish No.2 was a finalist at the 2016 Shanghai Masters, losing to Andy Murray.  23-year-old Andrey Rublev, 24-year-old Hubert Hurkacz, and 19-year-old Jannik Sinner are all making their Masters 1000 semifinal debuts. 

 

Also on Friday, the women’s doubles semifinals will be contested, featuring two of the top teams in the world, and two teams that just formed this fortnight.

Roberto Bautista Agut (7) vs. Jannik Sinner (21) – 1:00pm on Grandstand

Their only previous meeting was only two weeks ago, in the Dubai round of 16.  It was an extended affair, with Sinner prevailing 7-5 in the third.  On that day, Jannik struck 16 aces, and saved five of seven break points.  It will be crucial for Sinner to serve well again today, as he won only 38% of second serve points in Dubai.  But that will be challenging on the slow-playing hard courts in Miami.  As Jim Courier highlighted on Tennis Channel, Bautista Agut normally excels on faster surfaces.  However, he’s adjusted better to these heavy conditions than opponents who also like fast courts, such as John Isner and Daniil Medvedev.  Sinner doesn’t mind slower court speeds, as evidenced by his quarterfinal run at last year’s Roland Garros.  Yet, the 32-year-old Roberto certainly has the experience edge over the Italian teenager, especially at this stage of a big tournament.  In a match that will see a plethora of flat-hitting rallies, I give Roberto the slight edge.  He is never an easy out, is exhaustingly consistent, and should be able to break Sinner a bit more easily than in Dubai.

Andrey Rublev (4) vs. Hubert Hurkacz (26) – Not before 7:00pm on Grandstand

These two have also only met once before, and that occurred last September in Rome, with Hurkacz upsetting Rublev in three sets.  Their stats in that match were extremely similar, with Hubi’s ability to pull out a first set tiebreak being the difference maker.  Unlike the first men’s semifinal, neither of these players received a day of rest prior to this match.  Hurkacz finished his quarterfinal many hours before Rublev, whose match with Sebastian Korda was delayed multiple times by rain.  But Rublev spent about an hour less on court yesterday, as Hurkacz had to fight back from a set and a break down against Stefano Tsitsipas.  And the Russian has been the ATP’s winningest player since the start of 2020, with 61 match wins.  During that same time span, Hurkacz has only accumulated 28 wins.  Rublev’s power game is relentless regardless of the surface speed, and his current confidence level is unmatched.  I like Andrey’s chances to advance to Sunday’s championship match.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara (5) vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek – The Japanese team won their first 12 matches of the year, but then went on a four-match losing streak heading into this event.  For Mattek-Sands and Swiatek, this is their first tournament as a team.  They’ve dominated the competition so far without dropping a set, allowing their opponents only 10 games across six sets.

Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani (8) vs. Gabriela Dabrowski and Giuliana Olmos – Carter and Stefani have reached two finals this season, but are yet to win a title.  Dabrowski and Olmos are another team finding success in their first event as a unit.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Miami Open Daily Preview: Two Top Five Players Face Off in a Marquee WTA Semifinal

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Ash Barty is 12-2 in 2021 (twitter.com/WTA)

World No.1 Ash Barty takes on world No.5 Elina Svitolina for a spot in Saturday’s women’s championship match.  The other WTA semifinal will also take place on Thursday, with 2019 US Open champ Bianca Andreescu battling Maria Sakkari, who yesterday upset Naomi Osaka.  And there will also be two men’s quarterfinals contested, featuring four of the ATP’s most promising young stars.

 

Throughout this event, the women’s singles draw will be a day ahead of the men’s.  On Thursday, the women will play their semifinals, while the men’s bottom half completes quarterfinal play.

Each day this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the day’s schedule.  Thursday’s play will begin at 1:00pm local time.

Stefanos Tsitsipas (2) vs. Hubert Hurkacz (26) – 1:00pm on Grandstand

Tsitsipas is vying for his sixth career Masters 1,000 semifinal, while this would mark the first for Hurkacz.  Hubi’s only previous Masters quarterfinal appearance also came in the United States, two years ago in Indian Wells.  Stefanos not only has the experience edge over Hubert, but also a considerable edge in their rivalry.  Tsitsipas leads their head-to-head 5-1, though Hurkacz’s only victory is also their only previous meeting in North America (the 2019 Rogers Cup).  And it’s worth noting their last five matches have all gone the distance.  While Hurkacz officially represents Poland, he spends plenty of time training in Florida, so he’s fully comfortable in the hot and humid Miami conditions.  Tsitsipas should be the fresher of the two: Hurkacz has spent over two hours longer on court to reach this stage.  That includes Hubi’s victory over Milos Raonic in the last round, which was decided by a third set tiebreak.  With all that in mind, I would consider Tsitsipas the slight favorite in what should be a tight affair.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Elina Svitolina (5) – Not before 3:00pm on Grandstand

Ash Barty has been impressive this fortnight, in her first tournament outside of Australia in over a year.  She’s fought her way to a trio of three-set victories despite her level at times failing her.  She defeated two in-form Belarusians in the last two rounds: Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka.  And with Naomi Osaka’s loss yesterday, Ash is guaranteed to retain the No.1 ranking, which should alleviate some pressure.  However, this has been a problematic matchup for the defending champion in the past.  Barty is 1-5 lifetime against Svitolina, with her only win coming in their most recent meeting, the championship match of the 2019 WTA Finals.  Their two encounters before that were on American hard courts, with Svitolina claiming four of five sets played.  But Svitolina arrived in Miami having lost three of her last four matches, and only one of her 18 career final appearances have come in the United States.  And Barty has a lot more tools at her disposal should any parts of her game go awry.  So I like Barty’s chances to reach her second consecutive championship match in Miami.

Other Notable Matches on Thursday:

Bianca Andreescu (8) vs. Maria Sakkari (23) – This is the other women’s semifinal.  Andreescu is coming off three consecutive three-setters, including an exceptionally grueling one just last night against Sara Sorribes Tormo.  Sakkari required only a little over an hour to dispatch of Naomi Osaka earlier in the day yesterday.

Andrey Rublev (4) vs. Sebastian Korda – This will be the last men’s quarterfinal.  Since the start of 2020, 23-year-old Rublev is a sensational 60-13.  Since the start of 2021, 20-year-old Korda is 15-4 at all levels.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (7) – This men’s doubles semifinal features two of the ATP’s hottest doubles teams.  Mektic and Pavic have already accumulated three titles this year.  Ram and Salisbury have won 10 of their last 12 matches.

Thursday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Miami Open Daily Preview: Naomi Osaka Goes for a 24th Straight Win

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Naomi Osaka has not lost a match since the tour restart last August (twitter.com/WTA)

Osaka’s opponent on Wednesday is Maria Sakkari, who epically saved six match points on Monday, eventually prevailing in a third set tiebreak over Jessica Pegula.  And a revitalized Bianca Andreescu takes on Sara Sorribes Tormo, who is 12-1 this month, and was the champion in Guadalajara.  In the top quarter of the men’s draw, the seeds have held, making for a marquee quarterfinal between Daniil Medvedev and Roberto Bautista Agut.  And one of tennis fastest-rising stars, Jannik Sinner, faces one of the sport’s flashiest stars, Alexander Bublik.

 

Throughout this event, the women’s singles draw will be a day ahead of the men’s.  On Wednesday, the women’s bottom half will complete the quarterfinals, while men’s top half begin quarterfinal play.

Each day this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches, and note the other intriguing matchups on the day’s schedule.  Wednesday’s play will begin at 1:00pm local time.

Naomi Osaka (2) vs. Maria Sakkari (23) – 1:00pm on Grandstand

Osaka leads their head-to-head 3-1, though Naomi’s three victories have all gone to a third set.  But Sakkari is a much-improved player since they last met in January of 2020.  The 25-year-old from Greece has gone 31-15 since that loss, and as per Tennis Abstract, has accumulated a winning record against top 10 opposition.  But defeating the four-time Major champion on her favorite surface, and when she hasn’t lost in recent memory, is a huge ask.  That’s especially true following the physical and emotional toll of her comeback victory in the last round, a match that lasted nearly three hours in the Florida heat.  Osaka has played much less tennis this past week: she received a walkover in the third round, and claimed her other two matches in straight sets.  And there’s not much Sakkari does better on-court than Osaka.  All this makes Naomi the favorite to reach her first semifinal in Miami.

Daniil Medvedev (1) vs. Roberto Bautista Agut (7) – Not before 8:30pm on Grandstand

They’ve met twice before, with both matches occurring on hard courts, and both matches going the way of the Spaniard.  The first was four years ago in the final of Chennai, before Medvedev became the top player he is today.  But the other was just last summer at the Western & Southern Open, where Bautista Agut prevailed in three sets.  Medvedev suffered from cramps two rounds ago, though looked just fine in a straight set victory yesterday over Frances Tiafoe.  He may even be the fresher player today, as Bautista Agut outlasted John Isner in an extended third-set tiebreak, saving a match point along the way.  However, Roberto is one of the fittest players on tour, and matches against Isner don’t involve many grueling rallies.  Daniil has now won 27 of his last 29 matches.  And with this being a night match, his body won’t suffer as much as in the heat of the day.  I like Medvedev’s chances of figuring out a way to earn his first victory over Bautista Agut after a significant battle.

Other Notable Matches on Wednesday:

Bianca Andreescu (8) vs. Sara Sorribes Tormo – Andreescu is coming off impressive back-to-back wins against Amanda Anisimova and Garbine Muguruza.  And while Sorribes Tormo has taken 12 of 13 matches in March, none of those wins were against a top 10 player.

Jannik Sinner (21) vs. Alexander Bublik (32) – They just played two weeks ago in Dubai, with Sinner prevailing 6-4 in the third.

Lyudmyla Kichenok and Jelena Ostapenko vs. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Iga Swiatek – this is a women’s doubles quarterfinal featuring two recent Roland Garros singles champions.

Wednesday’s full Order of Play is here.

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