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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Jack Draper Wins In Stuttgart, Potentially Faces Andy Murray in Round Two

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Jack Draper – ATP Monaco di Baviera 2024 (foto via Twitter @atptour)

Britain’s Jack Draper tight first round win headlined the opening day’s results at the Boss Open 2024 in Stuttgart – and possibly faces a second-round match with Andy Murray who takes on Marcos Giron tomorrow.

Less than 24 hours from the last ball being hit at Roland Garros, the ATP Tour had already switched surfaces onto the grass, and 22-year-old Draper was well tested but ultimately came through in two tie-breakers over Sebastian Ofner.

The sixth seed’s 7-6, 7-6 win contained just one break of serve each, both coming in the second set, as serve dominated proceedings on the faster grass courts in Germany.

While the Austrian won 75% on his first serve, Draper won a whopping 89% behind his first delivery as well as hitting eight aces. These kind of service stats will surely take him far during the grass court season.

“I thought it was a really good match,” Eurosport quoted Draper saying after his match. 
“Both of us played really clean tennis, executing really well.
“When it came down to it, I’m glad I competed really well and got over the line – it’s good to be back on the grass as well.”

There were also wins for Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann who won 6-3, 6-3 over wildcard Henri Squire, while compatriot Dominik Koepfer won in three sets over China’s Zhizhen Zhang 4-6, 7-6, 7-6. 

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Carlos Alcaraz Still Owns A Magical Racket

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The legend of Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket lives on.

The 21-year-old Spaniard executed one magical shot after another with his racket and legs  Sunday afternoon in the French Open final. That bit of magic spelled defeat for Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

This was a final to remember, one of the great matches of all the Grand Slams. It just wasn’t in the cards for the 26-year-old Zverev to finally win a Grand Slam title.

HE HAD IT, THEN HE DIDN’T

Both players seemed to play a game of “he had it and then he didn’t.”

Alcaraz appeared to have everything under control in the first set, but Zverev rushed through the second set and then made a comeback from 5-2 down in the third set to win five straight games.

Zverev had everything going for him when he started the fourth set with a two-set advantage. It appeared that all the 6-6 Zverev had to do was to continue playing his masterful game of big serves and mighty ground strokes.

But Zverev couldn’t get started in the fourth set until he was down 4-0. So much for a smooth and easy ride to a Grand Slam title. By then, the magic of Alcaraz was heating up.

MAGIC OF ALCARAZ HEATING UP

Zverev still had his chances, even when he fell behind 2-1 in the fifth set. He had to feel pretty good about his chances when he took a triple break point lead against Alcaraz’s serve and appeared ready to even the set at 2-2. Even after Carlos came up with a winner to bring the  game score to double break point.

Zverev still was ready to even the entire match.

That’s when everything seemed to go haywire for the German, while all the while, Alcaraz was able to repeatedly come up with his magical shots as the Spaniard made critical shots that looked almost impossible to make.

ALCARAZ HEADED FOR GREATNESS

Everything for Zverev was lost in the magical racket of Alcaraz.

What was then initially called a game-ending Alcaraz double fault and a 2-2 deadlock quicky reversed itself and Alcaraz stayed alive by winning the next three points while taking a 3-1 advantage.

Zverev did get back to a 3-2 deficit and had a break point in the sixth game, but that was it for the hopes of Zverev. The last two games went rather easily in favor of Alcaraz to wrap up a 6-3, 2-6, 5-7, 6-1, 6-2 victory for Alcaraz.

That moved the Spaniard to a higher level of success on the ATP Tour. He became the youngest man to win Grand Slam titles on all of the different surfaces, clay, grass and hard courts.

Carlos Alcaraz and his magical racket appear to be headed for greatness.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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