Will This Be A French Open Unlike Any Other Before, As Nadal Claims? - UBITENNIS
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Will This Be A French Open Unlike Any Other Before, As Nadal Claims?

The balls and the weather seem to point in this direction. Will this help Thiem’s game? The strenuous defensive game of Djokovic will probably suffer. What about the women’s draw?

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Rafa Nadal - Roland Garros 2020 (via Twitter, @rolandgarros)

Article translated by Tommaso Villa

 

In Paris, the talk of the tennis town is the pandemic, obviously, closely followed by the low temperatures of this French Open, the rain, the heavy courts, the even heavier balls, and the struggle to end the points quickly, although not all matches last as long as Giustino vs Moutet, which took six hours and five minutes to complete, albeit spread over two days.

THE MEN’S TOURNAMENT – Factor in that many athletes arrived in Paris with little or no familiarity with the clay, since many have played close to no matches and have struggled to train as well – such tangents are upset harbingers.

Rafa Nadal has been complaining about the new Wilson balls – a great indirect ad for Babolat (I’m not stating he did it because he has played with Babolat racquets his whole life, before the hate mail and the trolling begin; there are so many other good manufacturers, starting with Dunlop) – and he is the hands down favourite to win the tournament, so it can be imagined how everybody else, not as muscular as he, might be feeling about them. It is indeed true that the lower bounce hinders his game, but how many players can boast biceps as big as Rafa’s to keep up their baseline aggression with no drops in their performance?

Does Djokovic have that sheer power? Maybe not. Does Thiem have it? Maybe so. Few players seem able to charge their shots like the Austrian who reached two finals and two semi-finals in the last four editions. Djokovic is the N.1 returner and an extraordinarily grinding counterpuncher, but a defensive style is often unsustainable if the balls are heavy – could he suffer from it?  

It seems to me that Mats Wilander is right – I have attended close to 160 consecutive Majors, so I had never watched so much Game, Schett & Mats content on Eurosport as I have this last month… – when he says that there is no clear-cut favourite, but that the potential winners are these three (Nadal, Djokovic, Thiem) while everyone else lags far behind, particularly in the bottom half of the draw, where whoever might be harbouring finalist ambitions would have to beat both Nadal and Thiem before facing Nole on the third Sunday, much like the last of the Horatians had to do slay the three Curiatians in the ancient Roman legend.

Who else has a powerful game that isn’t utterly serve-dependant, since it won’t be easy to win many free points with the first shot? Matteo Berrettini has the forehand to do it, but his serve (the least renounceable weapon in his arsenal) will be blunted by the surface. However, his excellent drop shot will be even more important in these conditions. If a player has a good touch, it is pretty hard for an opponent to get the ball off the ground and instil some pace once it’s landed on the soaked surface. Berrettini’s greatest hurdle will be the need not to lose his focus when the serve won’t fetch him the usual bountiful of points. However, the shot might still set up many quick wins for him anyway, in the event of high percentages with the first serve. After today’s debut with Pospisil, his draw isn’t easy (he could face Struff, a player with similar qualities, in the third round) but he could still make it to the quarter finals showdown with Djokovic, unless the Serbian loses along the way, but against whom? Khachanov, maybe? Well, the Russian has tons of power, and he reached the final eight in Paris last year as well as getting to the third round as a youngster in the two editions before the last one. Karen occasionally lacks in patience and always lacks in mobility, given his Gargantuan frame.

Medvedev is already out, as I thought after seeing the draw – I even wrote it. This is his fourth consecutive loss in the first round of the French Open, so it’s not a matter of heavy courts or heavy balls for him. Daniil even lives in France, so he should be able to find some time to train on the clay a bit more. Behind the three favourites, I would point to Tsitsipas, although the Greek, alas, has developed the bottling habit, losing a couple matches he’d already won, against Coric at Flushing Meadows after wasting six match points and against Rublev in the Hamburg final, when he got broken at 5-3 in the third while serving for the title. At the same time, Tsitsipas can really play on the dirt, despite the no show in Rome against Sinner; he’s reached a final in Madrid and a semifinal in Rome, so let’s not count him out. Especially as an underdog.

Zverev is another guy who is capable of reaching the highest highs and lowest lows, and he could be more dangerous than Berrettini and of Monfils, who’s already been knocked out. The question mark with him pertains the scars that he might still have due to those 15 double faults in the Flushing Meadows final. We cannot know how he’s coping, but a player who has won in Madrid and Rome and reached the quarters twice in Paris is certainly able to upset anybody as well, before perhaps losing against a less gifted opponent in the next round. The years go by, and Wawrinka isn’t the same player he used to be, as was fully on display in Rome, but if there is a player who can thrive in these conditions, that’s Stan the Man. He’s admitted it himself, as he’s never lacked the power to hit through a wild boar. To summarise, the court-and-ball factor can’t be overlooked, as it might upend technical assumptions that would be valid everywhere else.

THE WOMEN’S DRAW – The same goes for the ladies. How are the skinnier ones going to spice their shots up? I thought that Muguruza would be at home with these balls (balls that are not good enough “to play with your dog,” according to Dan Evans), and instead she had to scratch her way out of her first round match against Zidansek – 8-6 in the decider. Serena Williams struggled but then shrugged off Kristie Ahn without dropping sets, while last year’s runner-up Vondrousova got steamrolled and Zavatska broke her strings thrice, having to borrow her coach’s racquet to conclude her losing effort against Bertens! We are indeed witnessing a strange tournament.

In both draws, a considerable number of seeds already bowed out, a phenomenon that I once more attribute to the peculiar environment. The women’s draw had a losing K factor, since yesterday Keys, Kerber and Kuznetsova got eliminated (the day before it was Konta, Kontaveit, Kovinic and Korpatsch… Kenin would better keep her guard up today!), but the defeats of other strong athletes like Vondrousova, Yastremska and Muchova lead me to believe that Nadal is right, even though he might just being superstitious about his chase for his 13th French Open (not a good number then…) and for his 20th Major. 

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Internazionali d’Italia Daily Preview: Friday Delivers Several Blockbuster Quarterfinals

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Seeing fans back in the stands was a welcome sight on Thursday in Rome (twitter.com/InteBNLdItalia)

But will we be able to see those quarterfinals on Friday?  The forecast in Rome looks rather rainy, especially later in the day, so it may be challenging to complete play.

 

In men’s singles, two of the quarterfinals feature four of the top six players in the world.  Only one day after a three-and-a-half-hour epic against Denis Shapovalov, nine-time champion Rafael Nadal must face Madrid champion Sascha Zverev, who defeated him in the quarters just last week.  And five-time Novak Djokovic takes on Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, who has claimed 17 of his last 20 matches on clay.

In women’s singles, two-time champion Elina Svitolina plays a Roland Garros champion for the second consecutive day.  On Thursday, Svitolina took out Muguruza in straight sets.  On Friday, she’ll do battle with Iga Swiatek, who has won 12 of her last 13 on clay.  Another French open champ, Ash Barty, will play 17-year-old Coco Gauff for the first time, as Coco looks to upset a seeded player for the third round in a row.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s two most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Friday’s play begins at 10:00am local time.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Sascha Zverev (6) – Not Before 12:00pm on Center Court

What will Nadal have left after Shapovalov took him to the limit on Thursday?  Zverev will certainly be the fresher player, and will walk onto court with plenty of confidence.  While Rafa claimed their first five meetings, Sascha has now grabbed their last three, and all in straight sets.  That includes his victory just seven days ago in Madrid, which is part of Zverev’s current seven-match win streak.  And during that span, he’s dropped only two sets.  

In recent years, the quarterfinals of this event have been a stumbling block for Nadal.  He’s lost in the quarters four out of the last six years.  It’s difficult to ever refer to Rafa as an underdog on clay, even when he’s behind in a match.  However, he just might be the underdog on this day.

Elina Svitolina (5) vs. Iga Swiatek (15) – Not Before 6:00pm on Center Court

Svitolina has been solid yet unspectacular in 2021.  She’s accumulated a 19-8 record, though she hasn’t reached a final since last September in Strasbourg.  As of today, Swiatek has compiled a record of 16-5, which exactly matches her record from 2020.  The reigning French Open champ also won the title in Adelaide this past February.  This will be their first career meeting, and it will be interesting to see how the defense skills of Svitolina match up with the more offensive style of Swiatek. 

Elina won this tournament in 2017 and 2018, so this may be the best venue for her to elevate her season.  And despite Iga’s great successes early in her career, this is the farthest she’s ever been at a WTA 1000 event.   Notably, this is scheduled to be the last match of the evening session on Center Court.  If the match gets onto court, it will likely be played in slow, wet conditions.  Even though Swiatek thrived in cooler weather last fall at Roland Garros, those conditions should favor the game of Svitolina.  And Elina has a huge edge in experience at this level, as she looks to reach her 12th WTA 1000 semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) – Djokovic leads their head-to-head 4-2, and 2-0 on clay.  That includes their most recent clash last October at Roland Garros, when Tsitsipas came back from two sets down, only to lose in five.

Ash Barty (1) vs. Coco Gauff – Barty is now 27-4 on the year, and is vying for her fifth semifinal.  Gauff is yet to reach a semifinal this season, but this week she’s played her best tennis in quite some time, taking out both Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka.

Karolina Pliskova (9) vs. Jelena Ostapenko – Pliskova has advanced to the championship match in Rome each of the last two years.  This is Ostapenko’s second quarterfinal here, and her first in three years.  Pliskova is 4-3 against Ostapenko, and prevailed when they met last month on clay in Stuttgart.

Andrey Rublev (7) vs. Lorenzo Sonego – Rublev is already playing for his 30th win of the year.  Sonego survived an over-three-hour battle with Dominic Thiem, which ended at 11:00pm local time on Thursday night.  Last October in the final of Vienna, Rublev took out Sonego 6-4, 6-4.

Petra Martic vs. Jessica Pegula – Prior to this week, Martic hadn’t won three consecutive matches since last year’s US Open.  Pegula continues to take her career to new heights, as she’s set to debut in the top 30 next week.  The 27-year-old American upset Naomi Osaka two rounds ago.  When they played on clay two years ago in Charleston, the match went to Martic in three sets.

Reilly Opelka vs. Federico Delbonis (Q) – Opelka defeated Aslan Karatsev on Thursday to reach his second Masters 1000 quarterfinal.  For 30-year-old Delbonis, this is his first-ever quarterfinal at this level.  Opelka and Delbonis have never played before, but whoever wins will make their Masters semifinal debut.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Nadal survives three-set marathon with Shapovalov in Rome

Rafael Nadal saved match points to edge out Denis Shapovalov in Rome.

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Rafael Nadal (@atptour - Twitter)

The King of Clay needed three sets and over three hours to claim the win and avoid an upset.

 

Rafael Nadal needed three hours and 27 minutes to beat the Canadian Denis Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 at the Italian Open in Rome hitting 29 winners while his counterpart hit 46 unforced errors in the loss.

To everyone’s surprise it was the world number 14 who came out with the faster start earning two breakpoints in the first service game of the match with a stunning forehand winner.

He would break to take an early 1-0 lead and continued to have momentum earning another break and the Spaniard found himself staring at 3-0 defecit.

At 4-1 the world number three would get one of the breaks back but it wasn’t enough as the Toronto native would break one more time at 5-3 on his fourth breakpoint of the game to take the first set.

Once again we saw some really strong play from the Canadian in the beginning of the second set we saw history repeat itself when the world number 14 held serve and get the early break this time with his powerful forehand.

Nadal was fighting to stay in the set and the match and managed to earn a breakpoint but it was quickly saved with a big ace from Shapovalov. The very next game the Canadian had a chance to get another break but this time the Spaniard would deny him the opportunity.

After the world number three held serve he went on the attack looking to go back on serve and after three chances would get the break back. He would end up winning five games in a row and would take the second set to send it to a decider.

The third set remained on serve until 2-1 when the Canadian had a chance to break and he would take to jump out to a 3-1 lead. The break didn’t hold as Nadal came storming back the very next game breaking the world number 14 to love and equaling the set at 3-3.

The set and the match would ultimately be decided by a tiebreaker and in that breaker is when the Spaniard would take over winning it 7-3 to book his spot in the quarterfinals.

He will next face either Alexander Zverev or Kei Nishikori on Friday for a spot in the semifinals.

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Iga Swiatek Saves Two Match Points To Edge Out Krejcikova In Rome

Iga Swiatek survived a 2 hour and 50 minute clash to advance to the Rome Quarter-Finals.

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Iga Swiatek (@TickTockTennis - Twitter)

Iga Swiatek saved two match points to defeat Barbora Krejcikova 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5 to reach the last eight in Rome.

 

The defending Roland Garros champion battled and clawed to victory in 2 hours and 52 minutes after saving two match points.

Swiatek will now play the winner of the match between Garbine Muguruza and Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals tomorrow.

A summary of the match would be a lot of errors and tentative play throughout as the Pole was too aggressive in the opening set allowing a lot of unforced errors into her game.

Meanwhile Krejcikova was solid but was aggressive with the right angles in the right moments.

This proved crucial for the Czech Republican as she took advantage of Iga’s inability to produce first serves.

A crucial hold at 4-2 was enough for Krejcikova as there were six breaks of serve in the opening set. A long ninth game ended with the Czech taking the set 6-3.

In the second set it was more of the same with Swiatek as she was not able to produce her best tennis.

After going down an early break, Swiatek knew she had to build the points up slowly and gain her confidence. This is what occurred as she got the break back immediately and started to hold serve more comfortably.

Even though the world number 15 looked more confident with her shots and started to construct points better she could not successfully get into Krejcikova’s service games.

Towards the end of the set Swiatek saved two match points as this dramatic contest went to a second set tiebreak.

Swiatek’s mini-break lead was reduced but her fighting spirit was not as Krejcikova felt the pressure and a double fault from her gave the Pole a lifeline as she forced a deciding set.

After spending the change of ends being emotional, Swiatek regained similar form in the final set with her drop-shots being effective.

Krejcikova held nerve of her own as she continued to force the Pole to make unforced errors and just be as solid as she could be.

Swiatek saved three break points in the seventh game to lead 4-3 and then pounced in the 12th game with some heavy returns to take the match and move into the last eight.

Next for the Pole after a mammoth clash will be Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitolina as she climbs into a new career ranking of 14 in the world.

In other results today Coco Gauff knocked out Madrid Champion Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 6-3 for one of the best wins of her career.

The vibrant American faces world number one Ash Barty who continued her amazing season with with a 6-3 6-3 win over Veronika Kudermetova.

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