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Old-Timers’ ‘Big Three” Face Unpredictable Future

This past weekend, both Nadal and Djokovic were pushed to the limit – will they be the men to beat for much longer? Long-time tennis columnist James Beck gives his take.

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Dominic Thiem broke into the party at last year’s U.S. Open.
But Rafa Nadal came right back with his answer in the moved-back French Open and Novak Djokovic opened this year by winning the Australian Open.
And, suddenly, everything looked okay for the old-timers on the men’s tennis pro tour.
But is it?

 

IS EVERYTHING OK FOR OLD-TIMERS?

Sure, Nadal came through again on Sunday to do his part for the old-timers by out-lasting young Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Barcelona final, taking his 12th title there on a court named in his honor. 

It isn’t that Nadal looks tired or anything, except maybe in allowing Tsitsipas to come back from two sets down in the Australian Open and then looking un-Nadalish in a loss to Russian budding superstar Audrey Rublev in the Monte Carlo tournament.

Just this past week, Russian tour rookie Aslan Karatsev pushed Djokovic all over his home court in Belgrade in the Serbia Open.

And, of course, no one probably remembers when Roger Federer was last seen in a showcase situation.

TIME TO START WORRYING?

So, maybe it is time to worry about the old-timers, 39-year-old Federer, 34-year-old Nadal and 33-year-old Djokovic.

If Nadal and Djokovic can hold off the new crowd through the French Open and Wimbledon, that might be about the best that fans of the old-timers can hope for.

The U.S. Open probably is a toss-up between the three Russians (that’s including maybe already superstar Daniil Medvedev), Tsitsipas, young German Alexander Zverev and Thiem.

These young  guys (Medvedev, Thiem, Tsitsipas, Zverev and Rublev, Nos. 3-7, respectively) occupy  the last five places in the top seven positions in the latest world rankings, with old-timers Djokovic and Nadal serving as guides at Nos. 1 and 2, respectively.

Of course, you can’t overlook Matteo Berrettini and 19-year-old Jannik Sinner, a pair of Italians that appear capable of joining the “Russian Trio” in dominance of the tour, with help from Thiem, Zverev and Tsitsipas.

RAFA FANS CAN’T RELAX

In the case of Nadal, fans never knew when to relax, sort of like the Los Angeles Dodgers who have gone from “Wonder Men” to “Wonder What’s Next Men” during the past 10 days of major league baseball in the United States.

The Dodgers were up 7-1 late in a game and end up losing in extra innings to the San Diego Padres? Of course, Nadal failed to close out Tsitsipas while holding a 5-4 lead and two match points in the second set in the Barcelona final. After that, fans were never quite sure of how  famous-finisher Nadal might end up against the fiery, hard-hitting, highly athletic 22-year-old Greek.

TSITSIPAS MAY BE BIGGEST CHALLENGE

Although Rublev manhandled Nadal in the Monte Carlo quarter-finals, it now appears that Tsitsipas might be Nadal’s biggest challenge to overcome in winning a 14th French Open title. Yes, even ahead of Djokovic, who appeared to run out of gas against the steady, big-hitting Karatsev.

A year from now, we may be talking about Karatsev in the same breath as Thiem, Medvedev, Rublev and Tsitsipas.

As for the “Big Three” old-timers whose combined age of 106 is nine years more than that of the quartet of the possible future “Best Four” of Thiem, Medvedev, Rublev and Tsitsipas.

Yes, the upcoming French Open is critically important to the immediate future of Nadal, and maybe Djokovic. Go three steps further to Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and next year’s Australian Open, and the top of men’s tennis might have an entirely different look from the current one.


James Beck’s columns are available on the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper’s web-site at postandcourier.com. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.

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French Open Chief: Roger Federer Would have Won Multiple French Open Titles If It Wasn’t For Nadal

Guy Forget also predicts how far the 39-year-old could go in the draw this year.

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The decision by Roger Federer to play at the French Open is the most logical step ahead of Wimbledon, according to tournament director Guy Forget.

 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion hasn’t played a competitive match on the surface since June 2019. Last year he missed most the season due to a right knee injury which required two surgical procedures, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. So far this year he has only played in one tournament which was at the Qatar Open where he reached the semi-finals.

Federer will return to the court next week at the Geneva Open in his native Switzerland. It is the only event he will play before heading to Roland Garros. An event he had only played in once out of the past five editions. Forget, who is a former top 10 player himself, believes the match play is exactly what Federer needs.

“That Roger comes to play Roland Garros seems logical to me. This will allow him to play, and especially to test himself. Clay is a surface that requires you to be precise in your movements. The better Federer is at Roland Garros, the better he will be at Wimbledon,” he told reporters earlier this week.

The Swiss Maestro has only won the French Open once in his career which was back in 2009. Although he has reached the final on four other occasions. It was at the 1999 French Open where he made his main draw debut in a major at the age of 17. Overall, 11 out of Federer’s 103 ATP titles have been won on the clay.

However, Forget believes Federer would have won many more French Open titles if it wasn’t for the formidable Rafael Nadal. A player who has won more ATP trophies on the dirt than any other player in history, including 13 at the French Open alone.

“If Rafael Nadal hadn’t existed Federer would have had at least 5 or 6 titles at Roland, I’m sure of that.” Forget commented.
“Regarding this edition, I think it can happen that he could go into the second week.” He added.

Federer has lost to Nadal in all six of their meetings at the French Open – four times in the final and twice in the semi-finals. He trails their overall head-to-head 16-24.

The French Open will get underway on May 30th.

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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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Novak Djokovic Moving Into A ‘Good Trajectory’ After Reaching Rome Quarter-Finals

Novak Djokovic admitted that he is on a good trajectory after reaching the last eight in Rome.

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Novak Djokovic (@atptour - Twitter)

Novak Djokovic has said that he is on a ‘good trajectory’ after moving into the Rome Quarter-Finals.

 

The world number one moved into the last eight in the Italian capital with a comfortable 6-2 6-1 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Despite being broken in the first game, Djokovic rallied back to break on five occasions as he cruised past the Erratic Spaniard.

After 1 hour and 11 minutes, Djokovic’s overall game was too much for Davidovich Fokina as the Serb progressed to his 15th quarter-final in Rome.

After the match in his on-court interview the top seed admitted he is on a good trajectory as he builds momentum towards Roland Garros, “I thought I played well,” Djokovic told the ATP website.

“He started well and broke my serve in the first game. I made some errors, but I managed to break back right away and establish the control and consistency on the court. I think from the back of the court I was just a bit more solid than him.

“He made some unforced errors and double faults in key moments, which obviously helped me get that necessary break forward. I thought I played better, at least 20 or 30 per cent better, than I did against Fritz a few days ago. I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better.”

The real test for Djokovic will come tomorrow when he faces top 10 opposition in the last eight.

It will either be Monte-Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas or Madrid finalist and home favourite Matteo Berrettini next up for the world number one.

Djokovic was well aware of the form either of his possible opponents are in heading into tomorrow’s showdown, “My next match will be against a Top 10 player, so it is going to be a battle,” Djokovic explained.

“Both of these guys are in great form. Tsitsipas won Monte-Carlo and Berrettini is just coming off the final in Madrid. I am obviously going to do my best to win that match, whoever I play against.”

In the other result in Rome today, Reilly Opelka reached the quarter-finals with a 7-6(6) 6-4 win over Aslan Karatsev.

The American hit 18 aces as he will now face Felix Auger-Aliassime or Federico Delbonis on Friday.

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