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.
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
Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro
One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro.
17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world.
At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.
“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram.
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.
Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings.
The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it.
“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.
“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.”
Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.
Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games
A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro
For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.
In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck” in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.
After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.
The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.
Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”
Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.
The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.
Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?
Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?
By Roman Bongiorno
“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive. Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.
The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.
Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside. And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.
Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.
Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.
The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.
What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad. He survived the morning-after syndrome after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.
The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.
Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.
A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.
Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.
Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.
Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
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