Madrid Open Daily Preview: Former Champions Rafael Nadal and Sascha Zverev Meet in the Quarterfinals - UBITENNIS
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Madrid Open Daily Preview: Former Champions Rafael Nadal and Sascha Zverev Meet in the Quarterfinals

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Rafael Nadal, on Thursday in Madrid (twitter.com/MutuaMadridOpen)

The King of Clay is a five-time Madrid Open champion, though he hasn’t won this event since 2017.  Sascha Zverev is actually a more recent champion, as he raised the winner’s trophy in 2018.  And while Nadal leads their head-to-head 5-2, Zverev has claimed their last two encounters.

Dominic Thiem lost to Nadal and Zverev in those 2017 and 2018 Madrid finals.  He’s still looking for his first title at this event.  On Friday, Thiem faces John Isner, who has consecutively taken out two top 10 seeds in third-set tiebreaks.  Another men’s quarterfinal features two seeded players who recently won titles on clay.  The other quarterfinal sees a player whose only Masters-level wins have come on this surface, against a man who had never won a Masters match on clay prior to this event.

The women’s singles finalists, Ash Barty and Aryna Sabalenka, have the day off ahead of Saturday’s championship match.  Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova have already advanced to the women’s doubles final, and their opponents will be determined on Friday.  In addition, all four men’s doubles quarterfinals will be contested.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the two most prominent matches of the day, and note the other intriguing matchups on the schedule.  Friday’s play will begin at 1:00pm local time.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. John Isner – 1:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

Thiem has been thought of as a great clay court player throughout his career, yet his two biggest titles have come on hard courts: Indian Wells in 2019, and last year’s US Open.  He’s yet to win a Major or a Masters event on this surface, though he’s a two-time runner-up at both this event and Roland Garros.  Isner’s best results have also come on hard courts, as he won the Masters event in Miami three years ago, and reached the semifinals of Wimbledon that same year.  But the 36-year-old American has now reached the quarterfinals in his last three appearances in Madrid, and achieved a semifinal in Rome four years ago, so he’s far from a slouch on clay.

They have split two previous meetings, both of which took place in 2015.  Their clay court match went to Thiem in straight sets.  The Austrian is yet to drop a set this week, while as mentioned earlier, Isner is coming off back-to-back grueling contests decided by a final set tiebreak.  Big-serving Isner enjoys playing in the high altitude of Madrid, but Thiem will definitely be the fresher man, and is the better player on this surface.

Rafael Nadal (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5) – Not Before 3:00pm on Manolo Santana Stadium

While Zverev won their last two matches in straights sets, they both occurred on indoor hard courts, which is not where Nadal excels.  The three times they’ve met on clay, Rafa has been victorious, winning seven of eight sets played.  Nadal had advanced quite easily so far this week, though he’s faced a wild card and a qualifier.

Zverev has been battling an elbow issue in recent weeks, but he’s also yet to drop a set at this event, with solid wins over Kei Nishikori and Dan Evans.  If Sascha can tally a high number of aces, and minimize his double faults, he’s fully capable of upsetting the Spanish No.1.  However, since finding his form two weeks ago in Barcelona, Nadal has looked much more comfortable on his favorite surface.  If Rafa advances, he may find Dominic Thiem waiting for him, which would be a blockbuster semifinal.

Other Notable Matches on Friday:

Matteo Berrettini (8) vs. Cristian Garin (16) – Berrettini won on clay two weeks in Belgrade, while Garin won two months ago in Santiago.  Like Thiem and Isner, they’ve split their two prior matches, with the clay clash going to Garin.

Casper Ruud vs. Alexander Bublik – Ruud upset Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday, and is vying for his third consecutive Masters 1000 semifinal on clay.  Bublik has earned impressive victories this week over Denis Shapovalov and Aslan Karatsev.  Their only previous matchup came two years ago on a hard court in St. Petersburg, with Ruud winning in three sets.

Gabriela Dabrowski and Demi Schuurs (3) vs. Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova – Dabrowski and Schuurs are looking to make the final in their first tournament as a team.  Pavlyuchenkova was also a semifinalist in singles, losing to Aryna Sabalenka on Thursday.

Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic (2) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Lukasz Kubot (7) – Mektic and Pavic are a sensational 30-3 as a team this season, with five titles in eight events.  Koolhof and Kubot are just 8-7 during the same span.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (3) vs. Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut (6) – When these teams met in Acapulco earlier this year, Granollers and Zeballos prevailed in straight sets.

Friday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero Remaining Positive Despite Carlos Alcaraz’s Poor Form

Juan Carlos Ferrero remains confident of Carlos Alcaraz’s abilities despite his poor form.

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Juan Carlos Ferrero is looking on the positive side despite Carlos Alcaraz’s poor form.

After winning Wimbledon last year, many people thought that Carlos Alcaraz would dominate the ATP tour over the next year.

However since then, Alcaraz has lost his world number one ranking with the Spaniard not winning a trophy since capturing his second Grand Slam title at SW19.

There are concerns that Alcaraz’s form is dipping with Jannik Sinner potentially overtaking him in potential to challenge Novak Djokovic at the big events.

Despite the lack of titles to Alcaraz’s name, there is no reason to worry for coach Juan Carlos Ferrero as he is confident that the Spaniard’s lack of form is normal, “He has been achieving good results,” Ferrero claimed in an interview with Marca.

“The Cincinnati tournament was a shame because we were one point away. At the US Open, he made the semi-finals. When you play with such good people, it is difficult to win every tournament.

“For any player, not winning tournaments can affect your confidence level. For very good players, it is important to achieve the results that one sets in their path. Of course Carlos wants to win, but I see him well, I don’t see him with any type of desire, and that is very important.

“He doesn’t have the stress of I want to win, I want to win. He wants to do things well and wants to improve in every aspect that he can, and at 20 years of age there are many. The objectives are there. Every tournament that goes, the objective is to achieve a good result.

“And if he is physically well, a great result for him is to win. When you have that level and that potential, it is not bad to think that. Then, when you don’t get it, you have to know how to manage it and come out just as motivated.”

Ferrero brings a great level of experience and composure to the Alcaraz team having been in the Spaniard’s position many times when he was a player.

The Spaniard’s experience is evident as he claimed that failure isn’t a bad thing for Alcaraz to go through, “Not every year you can win six or seven tournaments and that doesn’t mean it will be a failure,” Ferrero was quoted by tennis 365 as saying.

“[Michael] Jordan and Tiger [Woods] didn’t win every Grand Slam and every ring every year. We cannot call that a failure. There are many positive things in a year even if you have earned less.

“You may have evolved in aspects that can be useful for the future. That’s where we are. The most important thing is that he is happy, that he trains well, that traveling makes him happy and from there he generates good tennis, which is what he loves. We all agree on that.”

Alcaraz will look to return to his best when he looks to defend his title in Indian Wells which starts on the sixth of March.

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Daria Kasatkina And Alejandro Davidovich Fokina Lead Calls For VAR In Tennis

There have been calls for VAR to be introduced into the sport.

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Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina have called for VAR to be implemented in tennis.

The calls have came after Andrey Rublev was disqualified from his semi-final with Alexander Bublik in Dubai.

As Bublik lead 6-5 in the final set, Rublev shouted in the face of an umpire allegedly swearing in Russian which was picked up by one of the officials.

This saw Rublev be disqualified from the event with Bublik reaching the final in Dubai.

However as a result of the incident players have called for a VAR review system with the video showing inconclusive proof of whether Rublev did swear in Russian.

Leading the calls for such innovation are Daria Kasatkina and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina as the duo called for VAR to be introduced on twitter, “So you can just disqualify a player, take away all his points and money, without even checking the video? What a joke, yet another confirmation that we need VAR in tennis and an electronic appeal system in all tournaments,” Kasatkina said on social media.

VAR has been implemented in football and also a similar system in rugby with mixed results.

It’s clear though that more technology would help umpires identify whether a grounds for disqualification would be necessary.

So far VAR has been trialled at the Next Gen Finals and the Nitto ATP Finals.

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Casper Ruud Overcomes ‘Tough Start’ To Set De Minaur Final In Acapulco

Casper Ruud is into his first ATP 500 final after defeating Holger Rune in three sets.

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Casper Ruud is into his second consecutive final in Mexico after defeating Holger Rune 3-6 6-3 6-4 in Acapulco.

The Norwegian had to overcome an electric start from Rune to prevail in 2 hours and 24 minutes.

It was a clinical performance from Ruud who is now into his second consecutive final in Mexico after reaching the final in Los Cabos last week.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted it was a tough start but he’s pleased to be in another final, “It was a tough start,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“Holger just came out firing bullets from the forehand, from the backhand and I had not too much time to play my game. I was frustrated at times, especially at the end of the first set, beginning of the second.

“I didn’t really feel like I got to play any points how I wanted to, so there was some frustration towards myself, towards my box, because I didn’t feel like we were doing the right thing.

“But luckily with one break in the second, it turned around a bit and in the third set it got a little physical. I think maybe Holger seemed like he was struggling a little bit and started firing even more and a couple of games it went in and he broke me, which is frustrating.

“Some unforced errors crept up on him and I served really well in the last game to close it out.”

Ruud is now into his first ATP 500 final in Acapulco where he will face defending champion Alex De Minaur.

De Minaur overcame Jack Draper after the Brit retired at 4-0 down in the deciding set.

Heading into Saturday’s final, De Minaur leads the head-to-head 1-0 although that was in a completely different scoring format in the Next Gen Finals.

Whatever happens on Saturday, Ruud will return to the world’s top ten.

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