Nadal At 1000: The Fearless Teen Who Won A Junior Tournament With A Broken Finger Has Become A Timeless Legend - UBITENNIS
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Nadal At 1000: The Fearless Teen Who Won A Junior Tournament With A Broken Finger Has Become A Timeless Legend

The Spaniard failed to earn his first ATP points on 9/11, but went on to become one of the most feared fighters ever seen on a tennis court.

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Rafael Nadal (image via ATP)

This article is a translation of a piece that appeared in the Italian newsletter “Lo Slalom”

 

Guillermo Platel is a 41-year-old man who earned a prize money of $ 24,000 during his tennis career. He quit playing tennis early, in 2003, but wherever he might be today, he will be talking about the morning when he beat Rafa Nadal.

That infamous morning, people all over the world had other thoughts on their mind, a familiar feeling in 2020. On September 11, 2001, everyone stared at the TV, horrified by what had happened in New York. Who could notice a 15-year-old boy, with no ranking, who was playing his first professional match on a clay court in Madrid – a Futures event? The previous spring, this youngster by the name of Nadal had tried unsuccessfully to qualify for the ATP tournament that took place in his hometown of Mallorca. In the Spanish capital, he played his first match. Talking about his story, “El señor” Platel will perhaps eschew revealing that the boy had 13 match points in the second set.

Nadal earned the first 5 ATP points of his career a few days later, the same day when Wall Street re-opened and dropped by roughly 30%. During the Sevilla ATP Challenger held at the Real Club Tenis Betis, Nadal beat Israel Matos, ranked N.751. He started the match by breaking the opponent’s serve and celebrated with that characteristic raising of a fist and a knee. “He was a boy but behaved like an adult. He was not ordinary. There were good kids of his age, but he was a different player… At the end of the match, I told him that I was surprised about how he played,” said Matos, who lost the match in straight sets 6-4 6-4. In the next round, Nadal found an opponent that was still out of his reach, Stefano Galvani, an Italian ranked 161st in the world. Nadal lost the match but took it to a decider. Galvani talked about that match during an interview with “Il tennis Italiano”. He said: “He was already a juggernaut. About that match, I remember, above all, an episode that happened at the beginning of the warm-up. I threw the first ball; Nadal shot a full-speed forehand, then a second, then a third. So, I decided to do like him, starting to hit hard. The first two balls came back, the third did not, and so I looked at him and said, ‘can we rally please?’ I think he tried to warn me, an unforgettable scene”.

The first success against Matos is not included among the 1000 victories that Nadal celebrated last week at the Bercy tournament by beating Feliciano López. The official ATP count started on March 29, 2002, in Mallorca, when he won 6-4 6-4 against the ATP N.81, Ramon Delgado. He also earned $ 5,850. In April 2004, beating Albert Costa in Monte Carlo, Nadal had already reached the ATP Top 100. He won the first title of his career in Sopot, Poland. The impressive thing is that only 3 of his 1000 wins came before he was ranked number 100 in the world. He is the fourth in history to reach this milestone after Ivan Lendl (Sydney 1992, second round against Brett Steven), Jimmy Connors (Los Angeles 1984, third round against Tom Gullikson), and Roger Federer (Brisbane 2015, in the final against Milos Raonic).

“Tennis is my passion, but I also think of it as my work, as a job I try to do as honestly and well as if I were working in my father’s glass business or my grandfather’s furniture store.”

Nadal is the closest thing to the devil that ever appeared on a tennis court. Competing in the Spanish U14 national championships, he broke his finger in a first-round match. He won the tournament anyways, gripping the racquet with his four good fingers, his pinkie dangling. He suffered many injuries: his knees, wrists, feet and back. Dave Seminara on the ATP website celebrated this by writing that “perhaps no other champion of his calibre has faced and silenced so many naysayers.” He managed to challenge Federer, beat him, often dominate him, without becoming unpleasant to his supporters as Djoković has done. His mother wanted him to go to university. The issue was put to rest – says Seminara – when he accidentally (maybe) left his books on a plane one day and decided that his classes were over. Now that he’s netted $122 million won in prize money and much more in endorsements, no one could question his choice.

Alejandro Ciriza, the El País journalist, wrote: “That long-haired teenager who devoured his opponents, full of energy and grit, has become a more relaxed man, but he’s kept his appetite intact. He has enriched the palette of his game in order to stay relevant in a sport that becomes more dizzying every day. Nadal has an undeniable clay-court mastery, but he’s added more firepower on hardcourts and has gained total control over his grass game. Therefore, we are talking about a chameleon who adapts to all types of scenarios and to all circumstances, including this 2020 during which the game seems to have become an underground pastime.”

Nadal carried a stigma for a long time. Instead of admiring his finesse and angles, rather than seeing his left-handed purity, it was the brutality of his groundstrokes that caught the public eye. The celebration dedicated to him by the ATP website reports: “When he started regularly beating Roger Federer on grass and hard courts, some observers from the media and the tennis establishment reacted with barely disguised hostility. No one had ever seen a figure so muscular and bold. GQ described him as a piece of beef rolling on clay; he can be described only with biceps and pants. Sports Illustrated compared his brazen appearance at Wimbledon to a street thug crashing against a cotillion.”

If you could evaluate the class of a player after a defeat, we must remember Nadal’s words after losing against Steve Darcis, at the time ranked 135th, at Wimbledon in 2013. He had a knee Injury and when a reporter asked about the injury he replied: “I think this is not the day to talk about my knee. The only thing I can do is to congratulate with my opponent. It’s not a tragedy, I lost, it’s a sport.”

He has an 83.2% winning percentage, higher than Lendl (81.5%), Connors (81.8%) and Federer (82.1%). According to the ATP website, “he could win another 20 Grand Slams and another 1,000 matches, but he won’t say I’m the GOAT, even on his deathbed.” Many others, including some old sceptics, have already done so. Here’s a few quotes about the Spaniard:

Andre Agassi: “He is like a boxer who constantly jabs.”

Nicolas Almagro: “He takes you to a very high level of stress. That’s why it’s so difficult to play against him.”

Juan Carlos Ferrero: “Rafa is the king of knowing how to adapt to any situation in the match.”

Guillermo Coria: “You had to win the point five times.” 

John Isner: “Beating Nadal on clay is literally one of the toughest things in sports.”

Andrey Rublev: “For me he is the best athlete, not just in tennis, but the best athlete in history.”

Diego Schwartzman: “He is like a lion in the middle of the jungle.”

Matteo Berrettini: “He’s the greatest fighter ever in this sport.”

Novak Djokovic: “Our encounters have made me the player I am today.”

Roger Federer: “I have always had the utmost respect for my friend Rafa as a person and as a champion. I believe we have pushed each other to become better players.”

Speaking to “La Gazzetta dello Sport”, his uncle Toni stated that there is one teaching he is particularly proud of having bequeathed to Rafa: ”Since he was a child, I have always told him to go at full tilt in training. Hitting the ball as well and as hard as possible. Never hit without putting everything behind the shot. Because if you work hard in training then you can raise your level to the maximum even during a tournament.” What about the flaws of a bona fide tennis machine? “He has always been very messy off the court. During a match, on the other hand, sometimes he has the habit of making his life a little too complicated, but he also knows how to get out of trouble just as well. He is truly one of a kind.”

THE BEST MATCHES

Carlos Moyá, his coach, chose his five favourite matches among his epigone’s millennium of wins:
1) 2004 Davis Cup Final. He was 17 years old and he won against Roddick.
2) 2005 Madrid Open Final. He won against Ljubicic. The Croat won the first two sets, and then Nadal started a comeback and won in 3 hours and 51 minutes, his biggest indoor title to this day.
3) 2008 Wimbledon Final against Federer, arguably the most beautiful match in the history of tennis.
4) 2009 Australian Open Semi-Finals. Nadal beat Verdasco in five hours and 14 minutes.
5)  2013 Roland Garros Semi-Finals. Nadal beat Djokovic 9-7 in the fifth set in a match that lasted four hours and 37 minutes.

THE FIGURES

Joshua Rey has illustrated some significant figures stemming from his 1000 wins for the ATP website: 

  • He was the year-end top-ranked player 5 times; 
  • He qualified 16 consecutive times for the ATP Finals from 2005-2020; 
  • He has beaten the world N.1 21 times;
  • He had 34 Top 20 wins as a teenager; 
  • The percentage of total points won in his career is of 55 percent;
  • He has 60 clay-court titles;
  • His winning percentage in deciding sets is roughly 69%; 
  • On average, he wins 7 out of 10 finals;
  • He won 81 consecutive matches on clay between April 2005 and May 2007;
  • His winning percentage against lefties is of 88%;
  • His winning percentage after winning the first set is of 95%; 
  • In 2010, he aced 310 times. 
  • The lowest-ranked player Nadal has beaten in a tour-level match is the Dane Mikael Torpegaard in the 2015 Davis Cup – at the time, he was the world N.909. 

Translated by Giuseppe Di Paola; edited by Tommaso Villa

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Rafael Nadal To Skip ATP Cup Ahead Of Australian Open

Where will the former world No.1 play his first tournament of 2022?

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WASHINGTON, USA - August 4: Rafael Nadal of Spain at the Citi Open Tennis Tournament at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center on August 4, 2021 in Washington, USA (Photo by Peter Staples)

20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal will not be starting his season at the ATP Cup in Australia, according to a leading sports newspaper.

 

Marca has reported that the former world No.1 has opted to not play in the team event which is set to get underway on January 1st. Nadal is currently on the comeback from a foot injury and hasn’t played a competitive match on the Tour since August. Next month he will return to action in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship which is an exhibition event.

“I am very happy to be back at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi,” Nadal said in a video released earlier this week. “I hope to see you soon there.”

It is understood that due to his off-season schedule Nadal has chosen to pass on the team event but it is unclear as to what or if he will play in any other events leading up to the Australian Open which will begin on January 17th. Besides the ATP Cup, four ATP 250 events will be staged in the lead up to the Grand Slam.

The 35-year-old isn’t the only top Spanish name set to miss the ATP Cup. It has also been reported that rising star Carlos Alcaraz and Marcel Granollerswill not be playing as they intend to arrive in Australia at a later date. Instead the team will be headed by Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta. Unlike the Davis Cup, the ATP Cup offers both ranking points and prize money to players.

Nadal has won 24 out of 29 matches played on the Tour this year before ending his season due to injury. He won the Italian Masters and Barcelona Open to increase his career ATP title tally to 88. In the majors he reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and the semi-finals of the French Open.

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Next Generation Of Players ‘Not Moving The Needle For Tennis,’ Claims McEnroe

The former tennis player and Davis Cup captain voices his concerns about the men’s game.

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Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner pictured at the 2021 ATP Finals (image Via ATP)

Tennis faces an issue with the younger generation of the men’s game unable to sell the amount of tickets in comparison to that of the big three, according to one former Grand Slam champion.

 

Patrick McEnroe, who won the 1989 French Open doubles title, says the younger players are ‘not moving the needle’ for the sport compared to what Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have done. Three greats of the game who between them have won 60 Grand Slam titles and have spent more than 850 weeks as world No.1. Although with all of the trio being above the age of 30, many are wondering how the future of the sport will fair when they retire.

Speaking to The New York Times, 55-year-old McEnroe cites the US Open as an example of the next generation being unable to attract enough fans when compared to the Big Three. This year’s tournament took place without Nadal and Federer due to injury. However, Djokovic reached the final before losing to Daniil Medvedev.

“The larger issue for tennis if I put on my ESPN hat and former U.S.T.A. hat is that, let’s be honest, these young guys at the moment are not moving the needle for tennis the same way the older guys have,” he said. “They are not selling tickets the first week of the U.S. Open the same way that Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have been doing.”

Following his loss to Alexander Zverev at the ATP Finals on Sunday, world No.2 Daniil Medvedev said he is confident that the future of men’s tennis is in good hands. The 25-year-old Russian won his first major title earlier this year in Flushing Meadows and reached the final of the Australian Open.

When there was [Bjorn] Borg and [John] McEnroe, when they were close, finished their careers, everybody was like, ‘tennis is over, we won’t ever have any great players, it is finished,” Medvedev said.
“We did have some: [Pete] Sampras, [Andre] Agassi, they were at the top. [When] Sampras retired, [people were saying] ‘okay, tennis is over’.
“Then we had Novak, Roger and Rafa. If you asked just before they came, everybody would say, ‘well, tennis will not be interesting anymore’.
“It’s the same here. Tennis is a great sport, so I don’t see why our generation would miss on something.”

In the ATP’s year-end top 10 for 2021 eight out of 10 entrants are under the age of 25. The only exceptions are 34-year-old Djokovic and 35-year-old Nadal. Furthermore, seven out of the eight Masters 1000 events this year was won by different players which could be the start of a changing landscape on the Tour.

According to McEnroe, one player who he believes is destined to win a major title is Zverev who has won more matches (59) and ATP titles (six) than any other player this year. The German is the first male player from his country to end a year in the world’s top three since Boris Becker back in 1994.

“I feel like it’s inevitable Zverev is going to win a major,” said former Davis Cup captain McEnroe. “I’ve been saying for a couple years that he’s been knocking on the door. Now he’s banging on it.”

Zverev has played in 25 Grand Slam main draws so far in his career but he only reached the final once. That was during the 2020 US Open where he had a two-set lead over Dominic Thiem before losing in a five-set marathon.

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The 10 Highest-Earning ATP Players of 2021

37 men on the ATP Tour have earned more than $1M in prize money this year but who has made it into the top 10?

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If the 10 highest paid players on the ATP Tour put their 2021 earnings together it would exceed more than $40M and that doesn’t take into account what they have made away from the court via endorsements or other business activities.

 

A total of 37 men has crossed the $1M mark in prize money winnings this year which is nine more than the women’s WTA Tour who operate their own financial structure. Out of that group only one man has managed to make more money in doubles than singles to reach the milestone. That was France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert who made $619,550 against $449,421.

11 men surpassed the $2M mark with Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime narrowly missing out on a place in the top 10 by $89,907. So who has made the most this year and how have they done it?

UbiTennis looks at the on-court earnings of the world’s best players based on data from the ATP. The figures are in US$ and don’t take into account other factors such as endorsements.

10) Jannik Sinner

Total earnings: $2,233,199
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $2,159,534 DOUBLES $73,665
ATP Matches won: 46
ATP titles won: 4
Year-end ranking: 10

Italy’s Jannik Sinner is the youngest player on the list at the age of 20. His earnings this season equates to almost two thirds of what he has earned during his entire professional career ($3,623,450). In 2021 the rising star won three ATP 250 titles and one 500 event in Washington. He also reached his first-ever Masters 1000 final in Miami which he lost to Hurkacz. On the other hand, he has experienced mixed results in the Grand Slams with two first round losses and two fourth round runs.

Sinner is the youngest player to finish a season inside the world’s top 10 since Juan Martin del Potro back in 2008.

9) Hubert Hurkacz

Total earnings: $2,313,289
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $2,173,247 DOUBLES – $140,042
ATP Matches won: 36
ATP titles won: 3
Year-end ranking: 9

Poland’s Hurkacz has achieved a series of firsts in his career this year. Prior to 2021, the 24-year-old had only ever won one ATP 250 title and never reached the second week of a major tournament. This changed in April when he stunned the field to win the Miami Masters whilst seeded 26th in the draw. Scoring back-to-back wins over top 10 players for the first time. A couple months later Hurkacz became the first male player from his country to reach the semi-finals at Wimbledon since 2013. He also won hard court titles in Delray Beach and Metz.

Hurkacz is the first Polish man in ATP rankings history to finish a season inside the top 10.

8) Casper Ruud

Total earnings: $2,314,629
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $2,230,592 DOUBLES – $84,037
ATP Matches won: 55
ATP titles won: 5
Year-end ranking: 8

Norway’s own king of clay Casper Ruud has blossomed on the Tour this season. During the summer he became the first player since Andy Murray in 2011 to win three ATP titles within as many weeks. The trio of titles during July came a couple months after he won another clay-court event in Geneva, Switzerland.

Clearly Ruud is at his most comfortable on the dirt but he has also produced some strong results on the hard courts. In February he reached the fourth round of the Australian Open which is his best performance at a Grand Slam to date. More recently, he won his first ATP title on the surface at the San Diego Open. Another sign of Ruud’s consistency this season is the fact he has reached the quarter-finals or better in five out of six Masters 1000 tournaments he has played in this year.

He is the first Norwegian to finish in the year-end top 10 on the ATP Tour.

7) Cameron Norrie

Total earnings: $2,623,881
Prize money breakdown
: SINGLES – $2,518,782 DOUBLES – $105,099
ATP Matches won: 50
ATP titles won: 2
Year-end ranking: 12

British talent Norrie started the year ranked outside the top 70 but has surged up the rankings since then. He has featured in the final of no fewer than six tournaments this year across three different surfaces. It was in the Mexican city of Los Cabos where he won his maiden trophy. However, that achievement was later surpassed by his unexpected run to the title in Indian Wells which is one of the biggest tournaments outside of the majors.

Norrie has recorded a career-best 50 wins this season and has recorded two wins over top 10 players – Dominic Thiem in Nice and Andrey Rublev in San Diego.

6) Matteo Berrettini

Total earnings: $3,231,908
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $3,201,126 DOUBLES – $30,782
ATP Matches won: 41
ATP titles won: 2
Year-end ranking: 7

Berrettini’s season came to a heartbreaking conclusion after he was forced to pull out of the ATP Finals in his home country due to injury. However, prior to that the Italian can take comfort in what has been another breakthrough season for him. It was on the Grass where Berrettini achieved his biggest success by winning the Queen’s title before going on to reach his first major final at Wimbledon.

Known for his thunderous forehand, the 25-year-old also achieved new milestones on the clay by reaching his first Masters 1000 final in Madrid. A couple weeks after Madrid, he won the Belgrade Open. Overall, he reached the quarter-final or better in three out of the four Grand Slam events.

Berrettini is the first Italian man in history to finish a season inside the top 10 on three separate occasions.

5) Andrey Rublev

Total earnings: $3,331,378
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $3,131,467 DOUBLES – $199,911
ATP Matches won: 49
ATP titles won: 1
Year-end ranking: 5

Rublev is the only player on the list to not win multiple titles this season. His sole triumph took place back in March when he won the Rotterdam Open. Although since then he has also reached the final of two Masters 1000 events as well as a 500 tournament in Halle. In the majors he achieved a win-loss record of 9-4 which his best result being a run to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.

Among the 10 highest earners this year, Rublev has won the most when it comes to playing doubles ($199,911). Alongside compatriot Aslan Karatsev they won the Qatar Open and reached the final in Indian Wells. Rublev also won gold in the mixed doubles with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Tokyo Olympics but prize money isn’t awarded at that event.

4) Stefanos Tsitsipas

Total earnings: $3,579,155
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $3,503,608 DOUBLES – $75,547
ATP Matches won: 55
ATP titles won: 2
Year-end ranking: 4

Prior to being forced to pull out of his last tournament of the year due an elbow injury, Tsitsipas has enjoyed a mainly successful season on the Tour. The Greek has reached the semi-final stage or better in nine tournaments he has played in, including both the Australian Open and French Open. It was at Roland Garros where he played in first major final and led Djokovic by two sets before losing in five.

Overall, Tsitsipas has reached five ATP finals, winning titles at the Monte-Carlo Masters and Lyon Open. However, all of his final appearances took place during the first half of 2021 and he hasn’t defeated a top 10 player during the second half.

Nevertheless, he closes out 2021 with a year-end best ranking of fourth.

3) Alexander Zverev

Total earnings: $6,420,344
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $6,361,173 DOUBLES – $59,171
ATP Matches won: 59
ATP titles won: 6
Year-end ranking: 3

Zverev tops the 2021 leaderboard when it comes to most matches won (59) and most titles (six). However, he still hasn’t been able to rise to the top of the highest-earning players. The German saw a surge in his prize money last week where he won the ATP Finals which earned him an impressive $2,143,000.

This season Zverev has triumphed at two ATP 500 events, two Masters tournaments, won a gold medal at the Olympics and claimed the ATP Finals trophy. These achievements enabled him to become the first German player since Boris Becker back in 1994 to finish a season inside the world’s top three.

Against top 10 opposition, the 24-year-old had a winning record of 12-8.

2) Daniil Medvedev

Total earnings: $7,481,271
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES -$7,466,284 DOUBLES -$14,987
ATP Matches won: 58
ATP titles won: 4
Year-end ranking: 2

More than a third of Medvedev’s earnings this year is from just one tournament. His triumph over Novak Djokovic at the US Open earned the Russian a $2.5M payout. To put that into perspective, only six other ATP players have managed to earn more than this amount throughout the entire season.

Medvedev also won two 250 titles, as well as the Canadian Open. He finished runner-up at the Australian Open, Paris Masters and ATP Finals. Against top 10 opposition, he won 10 out of 15 matches played.

As a result of his success, Medvedev is the first Russian man since 2000 to finish a season ranked inside the world’s top two.

1) Novak Djokovic

Total earnings: $9,100,547
Prize money breakdown: SINGLES – $9,069,225 DOUBLES – $31,322
ATP Matches won: 51
ATP titles won: 5
Year-end ranking: 1

Djokovic has played in 12 just tournaments this season but it is his success at the majors which has elevated him to the honour of the highest-earning player in men’s tennis this year. By winning three out of the four Grand Slams he made roughly $6M alone. On top of that, Djokovic also won the second Belgrade Open and the Paris Masters.

The world No.1’s surge this year further cements his position as the highest-earning tennis player in history when it comes to prize money. His tally now stands at $154,756,726 which is over $24M more than his nearest rival (Roger Federer has made $130.5M).

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