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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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Andy Murray Surging In Confidence After Reaching First ATP Quarter-Final Since 2019

The 34-year-old believes he is getting better with every match played on the Tour as he eyes a spot in the final later this week.

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Andy Murray (image via https://twitter.com/ATPTour_ES)

Former world No.1 Andy Murray says he is starting to gain more belief in his game after reaching the quarter-finals of the Moselle Open on Wednesday.

 

The three-time Grand Slam champion rallied to a 6-3, 6-3, win over Canada’s Vasek Pospisil in the French city. Murray dropped serve only once at the start of the second set but broke his opponent four times en route to the victory. It is the first time he has registered back-to-back wins on the ATP Tour since Wimbledon and it is the first time he has reached a quarter-final since winning the 2019 Antwerp Open.

Murray showed glimmers of his best tennis recently at the US Open where he took Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in the first round before losing. However, in his following tournament on the Challenger circuit he lost in the second round to world No.154 Roman Safiullin. Despite the mixed performances, the Brit says his fitness continues to improve and he believes he is heading in the right direction.

“For me, this period of the last few years has been the most I have played really,” Murray said following his win over Pospisil.
“My body feels good and I am starting to gain just a little bit of confidence with each match, starting to see the points and how I want to play them, which is great.
“There have been times in the past year where I have been a little bit confused and not seeing how the points are developing which was always a strong part of my game.
“It made me feel quite uncomfortable on court when I was feeling that way, so I am starting to get that back and the results are coming, my tennis is getting better.”

The 34-year-old, who now plays on the Tour with a metal hip after undergoing two operations, is targeting a return back into the world’s top 100 for the first time since 2018. He came agonisingly close in July when he reached 102. At present, he is currently ranked 113 but will climb at least four places following his run in Metz this week.

In the next round Murray will play either top seed Hubert Hurkacz or former top 10 player Lucas Pouille. Both players are likely to be a stern challenge for the three-time Grand Slam champion who is hoping to reach the final for the first time since 2007.

“I would love to get another opportunity to play here in the final, but there is a lot of tennis to be played before then potentially against the number one seed in the next round,” he reflected.
“It is not going to be easy if I want to reach the final, but I am playing well and have an opportunity.”

Murray has won 42 ATP titles and has earned more than $62M in prize money so far in his career.

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Diego Schwartzman Receives Threats On Social Media Following Shock Davis Cup Defeat

The world No.15 is the latest player to speak out about recieving abusive messages on social media.

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The weekend has been an emotional rollercoaster for Diego Schwartzman, who suffered ‘one of the worst’ losses of his career before helping secure victory for his country in their Davis Cup tie against Belarus.

 

On Saturday the world No.15 was stunned by unranked 18-year-old Daniil Ostapenkov who is yet to play a professional match on the pro Tour. Ostapenkov is currently ranked 63 in the world on the junior circuit. The comprehensive victory shocked the Argentinian team who was hosting the tie at the Buenos Aires Lawn Tennis Club.

Despite the shock upset, Schwartman managed to redeem himself the following day when he defeated Alexander Zgirovsky 6-1, 6-2. That victory handed his country an unassailable 3-1 lead in their tie and secured their place in the 2022 Davis Cup qualifiers which will take place next March.

Not only playing Davis, but in Buenos Aires, with a lot of people you don’t see, it’s not easy. My level can be and has to be much better. After the game on Saturday I had a difficult day in the spirit of being able to get up and enjoy with the group,” La Nacion quoted Schwartzman as saying.
“The most normal thing was that we won the series. It’s what everyone expected. But when you have a very difficult day at work like it was on Saturday and then you win, it excites you because you have some internal things withheld.”

Between those two matches, Schwartzman revealed that he was trolled on social media by some people unhappy about his loss in the tie. The 2020 French Open semi-finalist said he received criticism and even threats from some asking him to leave his home country. Something he admits affected him at times.

“It was one of the worst days of my career,” Schwartzman commented on his loss to Zgirovsky. “I lost to an unranked, inexperienced player. All that already affects (me) a lot. Although 80 or 90 percent of the people are always encouraging (me), there was a minority who criticized me with bad intentions.’
“I received threats, insults and requests not to return to Argentina. More or less, it affects (me)”.

Schwartzman is not the first player to speak out about online abuse. During the US Open Shelby Rogers said she was expecting to receive ‘death threats’ following her loss to Emma Raducanu who went on to win the title. Sloane Stephens has also previously spoken out about being the victim of racism online.

The 29-year-old says he has previously tried to interact with those who have trolled him on social media to find out why they are doing so.

Sometimes I start to answer some messages and I ask those people if they realize what they are sending,” Schwartzman said during his press conference. “The vast majority apologize and say they had not realized it. But at the moment it hurts. That very ill-intentioned criticism is the only bad thing about social networks.”

Schwartzman has won four ATP titles and earned more than $10M in prize money so far in his career.

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Spanish Veteran Feliciano Lopez Addresses Future On The Tour

23 years after he played his first main draw match on the ATP Tour, Lopez says his longevity in the sport has been achieved with the help of of some luck.

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Feliciano Lopez of Spain is pictured during the semi-final of ATP Fever-Tree Championships tennis tournament at Queen's Club in west London on June 20, 2019.

Feliciano Lopez has dismissed any speculation that he could retire in the coming weeks after saying he is taking life on the Tour in his stride.

 

The 39-year-old Spaniard is currently the second oldest player in the world’s top 200 after Roger Federer, who is a year older than him. Lopez made his ATP Tour debut at the 1998 Barcelona Open which was before the birth of Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz. In June he became the 10th active player to record his 500th win on the Tour.

Currently ranked 111th in the world, some are starting to wonder how much longer Lopez will continue playing. So far this season he has achieved a win-loss record of 9-19 with his best performance being a run to the quarter-finals of the Mallorca Open which was held on the grass. It was in Mallorca where he defeated Karen Khachanov who is the only top 30 player he has beaten so far in 2021.

I play year-by-year, the last 6-7 years have been like this, a tennis player at that age cannot think about extending his career. After turning 30 I have been lucky, I have obtained the best results of my career,” Lopez told reporters on Friday.
It is not very common for players my age, at (almost) 40 years to continue playing in the best tournaments.” He added.

Throughout his career, Lopez has impressively played in a record 78 consecutive Grand Slam tournaments dating back to the 2002 French Open. During that period he has reached the quarter-finals of a major tournament on four occasions.

“I don’t play to break records, what makes me most excited is to continue playing Grand Slams. For me, maintaining that record (78 consecutive Grand Slams played) is very nice, but more to follow. Being competitive,” he commented on the milestone.
“It is difficult for someone to overcome it because it is 20 years in a row without missing a great one. I have had continuity and enormous luck. Those of my generation are practically all retired.”

Away from the court, the former world No.12 is the current tournament director of the Madrid Open. Making him one of a few players historically to both be playing on the Tour and managing a tournament at the same time. Recently it was confirmed that Madrid will continue hosting it’s combined event until at least 2030 following a renewed agreement between the city council and the Madrid trophy promotion.

Lopez has won a total of seven ATP titles so far in his career and has earned more than $18M in prize money.

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