Rafael Nadal Excels Once Again At His Beloved French Open - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal Excels Once Again At His Beloved French Open

The king of clay dominated his match against world No.1 Djokovic to continue what will perhaps be the most dominant run at a Grand Slam tournament in history.

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Rafael Nadal (image via https://twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Records are meant to be broken, and almost all existing ones will indeed be broken over the next century.

All but one, though, because no one will ever win the French Open 13 times or amass 100 victories with just a pair of defeats over a 15-year span like Rafa Nadal has done. The Spaniard thoroughly and utterly dominated Djokovic, even from a tactical perspective, a feat that could be hardly predicted. As a matter of fact, the Eurosport crew, made of full-on or borderline Hall-of-Famers like McEnroe, Wilander, Courier and Henman, foresaw that the Serbian, who has a more complete and varied repertoire of shots, would have finally dethroned Nadal in Paris, aided by the perks of a heavy court to counter his opponent’s vaunted-and-yet-blunted topspin groundstrokes. Moreover, the final was played under the roof of the Philip Chatrier stadium, another element that was thought to work in the world number one’s favour, since he usually annihilates the competition when playing indoors. 

 

Well, they were all wrong, we were all wrong, especially vis-à-vis the proportions of the scoreline. Djokovic had never been beaten so harshly in a Major final; what’s more is that Nadal could have actually trundled his way to an even bigger triumph, since he was leading 3-2 with a break in the third set before losing his serve for the sole time – he also had a break point at 4-4 to serve the match out a few minutes earlier than he ended up doing, when Djokovic double faulted at 5-5 to concede for good. Up 6-5 40-0, the King of Clay aced out the tournament in style with a typical southpaw slice serve, leaving Djokovic agape once more before falling to his knees – he would later give way to tears during the Spanish national anthem.

What are the reasons behind such a blowout, aside from journalistic clichés such as “Rafa was at his best, and it just wasn’t Novak’s day”?

  1. Djokovic’s serve was appalling. He seldom put a first serve in play. The first two times he got broken, he was 2 out of 8 and 1 out of 6, respectively. He fought valiantly for 33 minutes, but after falling 4-0 behind he managed to lose his serve again after springing to a 40-0 lead…
  2. He got a little too enamoured of the drop shot (he hit 35 against Tsitsipas, about 30 against Nadal), failing to realise that the quick nature of those points doesn’t give him enough rhythm and control with his groundstrokes. If a player like him, who thrives in long and asphyxiating exchanges based on moving the opponent, loses the habit to go over nine shots, he will end up suffering against Nadal, a player who pretty much never misses – just three unforced errors in the opening two sets.
  3. While the Spaniard’s signature shot is his forehand, during the final he wreaked havoc with the slice backhand as well. The shot landed low and short, forcing Djokovic to take a few steps forward in no-man’s land (the area between the service line and the baseline), offering him an uncomfortable look on which it was very difficult to inject pace. 

The outcome was that Rafa won his favourite tournament without dropping a set for the fourth time after already doing so in 2008, 2010, and 2017. Jannik Sinner was the only one who got to at least try serve out a set against him – if the Italian was able to do that at 19, who knows how good he’ll become in the next few years, since his performance didn’t happen by chance.

Roger Federer, who was in Milan during the weekend when his frenemy equaled his record tally of 20 Majors (Djokovic is at 17), immediately took to social media to comment on Nadal’s win: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. As my greatest rival over many years, I believe we have pushed each other to become better players […]. I hope 20 is just another step on the continuing journey for both of us. Well done, Rafa. You deserve it.”

Nadal replied during his press conference: I think, as everybody know, we have a very, very good relationship. We respect each other a lot. At the same time in some way I think he’s happy when I’m winning and I’m happy when he’s doing the things well. I never hide that for me, I always say the same, that I would love to finish my career being the player with more Grand Slams. But in the other hand I say, okay, I have to do it my way. I did my way during all my career. In terms of these records, of course that I care. I am a big fan of the history of sport in general. I respect a lot that. For me means a lot to share this number with Roger, no? But let’s see what’s going on when we finish our careers.”

In 1930, Italian cyclist Alfredo Binda was offered a huge sum to withdraw from the Giro d’Italia after winning it for five years in a row. Will it happen to Rafa Nadal in Paris too? It looks like the only way to stop him.

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Novak Djokovic ‘Hurt’ By Father’s Absence From Australian Open Final

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Novak Djokovic - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto dell'Olivo)

Novak Djokovic said he mutually agreed with his father that he did not attend his latest Australian Open match but admits it was a bitter pill to swallow. 

 

Srdjan Djokovic had attended his son’s matches throughout the majority of the tournament but has recently been caught up in controversy. On Wednesday a video surfaced on social media of the 62-year-old posing for a photo with pro-Russian supporters with one of the fans waving a flag with the face of Vladimir Putin on it. Another fan was also wearing a t-shirt with the ‘Z’ symbol on it which is used to support the Russian army. 

The Russian and Belarussian flags were banned from the tournament this year following an incident in the first round. A Russian flag was shown during a match between Ukraine’s Kateryna Baindl and Russia’s Kamilla Rakhimova. Prompting anger from Ukraine with its ambassador to Australia calling for a ‘neutral flag’ policy to be implemented. 

Srdjan has since issued a statement saying the incident was ‘unintentional’ and said his family ‘only wish for peace in the world.’ He subsequently also missed Djokovic’s semi-final match to avoid any possible ‘disruption’ before doing the same for Sunday’s final.

“I thought things would calm down in terms of media and everything, but it didn’t. We both agreed it would probably be better that he is not there,” Djokovic said after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas to win a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title
“That hurts me and him (Srdjan) a lot because these are very special, unique moments. Who knows if they repeat again? So it was not easy for him.”

Whilst he was not in the stands, Djokovic was reunited with his father shortly afterwards. Although the tennis star said Srdjan ‘was not feeling his best’ due to the situation. 

“It is what it is. I think in the end also what he told me is that it’s important that I feel good on the court, I win the match, and he’s here for me,” Djokovic continued. 
“If it’s going to be better for me as the outcome of the match so that he’s not in the box, then so be it. That was the whole conversation.’
“In a way, I’m also sad that he was not there, present, in the stands. But he was throughout the entire tournament, so it’s fine. In the end, we have a happy ending.”

Djokovic has now won five out of the past seven Grand Slam tournaments he has played in. At the Australian Open alone he has won 28 matches in a row.

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Novak Djokovic Topples Tsitsipas To Clinch Historic Australian Open Title

Djokovic has become the first man in history to win the title at Melbourne Park for the 10th time and only the second to win the same Grand Slam 10 or more times.

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Image via ATP Twitter

Novak Djokovic has drawn level with nemesis Rafael Nadal for the most Grand Slam titles won by a male tennis player after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in straight sets to win the Australian Open.

 

Playing in front of a highly animated crowd on the Rod Laver Arena, Djokovic rallied to a 6-3, 7-6(4), 7-6(5), win over Tsitsipas to become only the fifth player – male or female – to have won a 22nd major title. The triumph has also secured his return to world No.1 on Monday for the first time since June. Djokovic is the third-oldest man to win the Australian Open title and the first to do so for the 10th time in their career.

Taking on third seed Tsitsipas in what was a tense encounter on Sunday, the Serbian claimed victory with the help of 36 winners compared to 22 unforced errors. Winning 75% of his service points and converting two out of five of his break point chances. He has now beaten Tsitsipas in nine out of their 11 Tour meetings.

“What a journey it has been for me and my family. You guys, I don’t know if you will ever forgive me for what I have done to you over the years. This trophy is as much for you as it is for me,” Djokovic said afterwards. 
“This has been one of the most challenging tournaments I have played in my life, considering the circumstances. Not playing last year, coming back this year. There is a reason I have played my best tennis here – in front of legends like Rod Laver.
“Only my team and my family know what I have been through over the last four or five weeks. I think this has to be the biggest victory of my life, given the circumstances.”

The showdown featuring 35-year-old Djokovic and 24-year-old Tsitsipas represented the largest age gap between two players contesting an Australian Open men’s final in the Open Era. From the onset, it was Djokovic who dictated proceedings with the use of some of his best tennis. Taking the ball early and applying pressure directly onto his opponent’s backhand, the Serbian broke for the first time in the fourth game of the match with the help of a Tsitsipas double fault to move ahead 3-1. Djokovic, who won 20 out of his 25 service points during the opener, then eased his way to a 5-3 lead before sealing the first set with a serve out wide that forced an unforced error from across the court. 

Heading into the second frame, the tension between the two was rising. Both players remained firm behind their serve with Djokovic for the first time showing a glimpse of frustration with gestures towards his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, in the crowd. Then down 4-5, he saved a set point by prevailing in a 15-shot rally against Tsitsipas with a forehand winner. 

With little to distinguish between the two, it was a roller-coaster tiebreaker which separated them where seven out of the 11 points played saw the server lose the point. Djokovic eased to a 4-1 lead at the expense of some lacklustre shot-making from Tsitsipas which saw him hit a duo of forehand errors. Then it was his turn to succumb to the pressure after producing a backhand error followed by a double fault to allow the Greek to come back and draw level. Despite the blip, the world No.5 weathered the storm to clinch a two-set lead. 

Another mishap would take place at the start of the third set. After taking a five-minute toilet break, Djokovic was broken immediately when he returned to the court before breaking back immediately in the following game. Although he soon regained momentum in the match with the help of a clinical service display where he won 17 points in a row en route to yet another tiebreaker. 

In what was a case of deja vu, Tsitsipas’ unforced errors were his undoing as he fell behind 0-5 before managing to claw his way back into contention. Meanwhile, Djokovic had to contend with a rowdy crowd as well as his opponent. Two Championship points came and went before he prevailed on his third. Bringing the 10-time champion to tears as he celebrated with his team in the crowd just after the match. 

Djokovic’s sheer emotion comes as no surprise considering his recent history in Australia. 12 months ago he was deported from the country following a legal battle over the validity of his visa and then received an automatic three-year ban from returning. A penalty that wasn’t waived by the government until last November. Then in this year’s tournament, he had to contend with a hamstring injury with some accusing him of saying the problem was more severe than it was. 

Yet few can dispute Djokovic’s achievements in the sport which was hailed by runner-up Tsitsipas during the trophy ceremony. It is the second time Tsitsipas has lost to him in a Grand Slam final after the 2021 French Open. 

“Novak, I don’t know what to say, the numbers say it all,” Tsitsipas said of Djokovic. “It’s been an unbelievable journey for you and I admire what you have done for our sport.
“He’s one of the greatest in our sport – the greatest to have ever held a tennis racket. I’d like to thank you for pushing our sport so far.
“It’s not easy to be here again in the final of a grand slam. But thank you to my team, we are getting there.”

Djokovic has now won 28 consecutive matches at the Australian Open and is 12-0 so far this season. 

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Australian Open Daily Preview: Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas Play for the Men’s Championship

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Novak Djokovic this week in Melbourne (twitter.com/australianopen)

A year ago, Novak Djokovic experienced quite an embarrassing debacle.  After the unvaccinated Djokovic was initially granted an exemption and allowed to enter Australia, he was later detained, and eventually deported and prevented from competing at this tournament.  His refusal to get vaccinated continues to prevent Novak from competing in North American tournaments, missing Indian Wells, Miami, Canada, Cincinnati, and the US Open last year. 

 

But at the events Djokovic has been allowed to participate in over the past seven months, he has been nearly unstoppable.  Since the beginning of Wimbledon last June, he is now 37-2, with five titles.  Novak comes into this championship match on a 16-match winning streak, with seven of those victories against top 10 opposition.  With a win on Sunday, Djokovic not only ties Rafael Nadal in their ongoing race for history with 22 Major titles, but he also regains the World No.1 ranking, despite all the tennis he’s missed.

However, standing in his way is a hungry and confident Stefanos Tsitsipas.  This is the Greek’s second Major final, and the second time he’s encountered Djokovic in this round of a Slam.  Two years ago in the championship match of Roland Garros, Tsitsipas secured the first two sets, before losing to Novak in five.  If Stefanos can win one more set on Sunday, he’ll not only win his first Major title, he’ll also become the World No.1 for the first time.

Also on Sunday, the women’s doubles champions will be crowned.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, who have won six Majors as a team, face Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara, who are vying for their first Major as a team. 


Stefanos Tsitsipas (3) vs. Novak Djokovic (4) – 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena

Djokovic’s excellence in the latter rounds of the Australian Open is rivaled only by Nadal’s excellence at Roland Garros.  Novak is now 19-0 in the semifinals and finals of this tournament, which is quite staggering.  He’s also won his last 27 matches at this event, and his last 40 in Australia in general, a streak that dates back over five years.  While Novak suffered a hamstring injury a week before this fortnight, he has still advanced to this final rather easily, dropping only one set through six matches.

Tsitsipas has now reached the semifinals or better in four of the last five years at the Australian Open, but this is his first time reaching the final.  He enjoys plenty of Greek support at this event, and appears to have some extra swagger in his step during this fortnight.  Stefanos has dropped three sets to this stage, and has been superb at saving break points.  Through six matches, he has saved 44 of 53 break points faced.

Both men feel fully at home on Rod Laver Arena, and have described it as their favorite court.  But this is their first meeting on RLA.  They’ve met plenty of times on other courts though, in a rivalry that’s been thoroughly dominated by Djokovic.  The Serbian leads 10-2, and has claimed their last nine matches.  That includes four matches that took place in 2022, in which Novak won eight of their nine sets.  They played three times within a six-week period this past fall on indoor hard courts, with their closest and best matchup taking place in the semifinals of Bercy, where Djokovic prevailed in a final-set tiebreak.

Djokovic is undeniably a huge favorite to win his 10th Australian Open.  But that common knowledge takes a lot of pressure off Tsitsipas, who was so close to defeating Novak the last time they met in a Slam final.  Djokovic has been rather unbothered by all competition during this tournament, even with an injured hamstring.  Can Stefanos pull off one of the bigger surprises in recent tennis history?  I expect him to challenge Novak on Sunday, but Tsitsipas’ backhand remains a liability. And with Djokovic determined to avenge what he sees as mistreatment a year ago in Australia, a Novak loss would be truly surprising.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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