Did Rafa Nadal take his foot off the gas too early? - UBITENNIS
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Did Rafa Nadal take his foot off the gas too early?

Novak Djokovic pulled off the upset in emphatic fashion, but that doesn’t mean he will get an easy win on Sunday against an inspired Tsitsipas

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USTA league tennis has some of the same characteristics as big-time professional tennis. After all, both are real tennis.

Of course, the league tennis players aren’t getting rich while playing on several different teams at the same time. In fact, there are no financial rewards for the league players. Well, the USTA is a different situation. The USTA and different tennis organizations get a tidy sum of money from the millions of players’ registration fees.

SOME OF THE SAME SEMBLANCES

The tennis matches themselves have some of the same semblances. Just because a USTA league team wins the first set of a match doesn’t mean it can take its foot off the gas pedal. There is an avalanche of players/teams who dominate their opponents in the first set, then get dominated in the second set. Then comes the tie-breaker. And anything can happen because the first-set winner has lost much of its confidence and is no longer sharp for the decisive  tiebreaker

That’s about what happened to Rafa Nadal in Friday’s French Open semifinals. He looked unbeatable the first five games. Rafa then appeared to take his foot off the pedal, and he was lucky enough to survive Novak Djokovic’s late charge in the first set. But that was about it for Nadal in a 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), 6-2 loss.

NADAL WENT AWAY TOO EARLY

Nadal just wasn’t there for the second set. Serving became a problem and Nadal was broken in three of his four service games in the set. Nadal just simply hit too many first serves into the net. That allowed Djokovic to tee off too many times on Rafa’s second serves.

Then came the tiebreaker. Not the 10-point match tiebreaker the USTA leaguers use to decide matches that split the first two sets.

This one was the  one the pros use when a set other than the fifth set goes to 6-6. Rafa put up a good fight in the third set. He even had a set point in the 12th game. But basically the tiebreaker practically sealed the verdict when Djokovic got to Nadal’s drop shot on the 11th point and placed a return where Nadal couldn’t put the ball into play.

RAFA SHOULD HAVE KEPT HIS FOOT ON THE PEDAL

The 35-year-old Spanish legend wasted too much energy in holding off Djokovic late in the first set, playing too loosely in the second set and even while getting to the third-set tiebreaker. Nadal should have kept his foot on the gas pedal the way he normally does in beating everyone he faced in Paris for 13 years.

Rafa wasn’t back on his game in the third set. He had a chance to deadlock the tiebreaker at 4-4, but put an open-face racket on a sitting-duck volley, and the ball went up in the air a bit while sailing off the court. That left Djokovic with a 5-3 advantage.

Nadal didn’t recover. He won only one of the last three points in the tiebreaker, dropping the breaker and set on a 7-4 verdict for Novak. That might as well have been the match.

A TIRED NADAL WORE A HEAVY GRIMACE

 Rafa broke Djokovic in the first game of the fourth set and then held service for the last time in the match for a 2-0 lead. The damage was already done.

Nadal wore a heavy grimace on his face the rest of the way when he went to the service line. He appeared to be very tired of chasing Djokovic’s barrage of drop shots. After all, Rafa hasn’t faced many long matches the last couple of years, and maybe he wasn’t prepared to go five sets this time.

Rafa went out meekly, very un-Nadal like as he won a total of only six points in the last six games of the match.

Nadal hasn’t committed so many unforced errors in a long time. Of course, Djokovic played brilliantly the last three sets. He simply forced Nadal to hit too many backhands and chase too many drop shots.

DJOKOVIC MIGHT NOT HAVE A PICNIC ON SUNDAY

Perhaps it was time for Nadal to experience an off day. Of course, he’s still tied with Roger Federer at 20 for the most Grand Slam singles titles, with Djokovic trying to sneak up to No. 18 in Sunday’s final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

But that one might not be a picnic for Djokovic. Tsitsipas will apply tremendous depth and power from start to finish, the way the talented Greek did in a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 win over Alexander Zverev in Friday’s other men’s semifinal.

Tsitsipas appeared to be fit enough to battle Djokovic for five sets. This final should be another barnburner.

WILL NADAL PLAY WIMBLEDON AND U.S. OPEN?

As for Nadal, hopefully he will play Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He could pick up the title in either event with a little luck, and maybe help from the likes of Tsitsipas, Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, a few of the other young guns and old-timer Roger Federer.

Nadal may have made a major mistake in strategy by not attacking Djokovic relentlessly with  sizzling forehands. He played Novak’s cat-and-mouse game too often.

Nadal is fully capable of winning on grass and hard courts as his seven Grand Slam titles on those courts might indicate, including five on hard courts at the U.S. Open and Australian Open. He also has a hard-court title from the Olympics.

If not, it’s been a grand time for tennis fans to follow the exploits of Federer and Nadal for most of the last two decades.


See James Beck’s Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier columns at postandcourier.com (search on James Beck column). James Beck can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

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Roland Garros 2024: ‘Proud’ Iga Swiatek Seeks Consistent Improvement

Iga Swiatek continues to find improvement despite her dominance ahead of her Roland Garros opener.

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Ubitennis/Francesca Micheli

Iga Swiatek had admitted she is ‘proud’ of her clay court season but is seeking consistent improvement over the rest of the season.

The world number one is aiming for a third consecutive Roland Garros title and heads into Paris in dominant form.

Titles in Madrid and Rome with two contrasting wins over Aryna Sabalenka means she is the overwhelming favourite heading into the fortnight.

Speaking ahead of her opening match Swiatek spoke about how she is a better tennis player from 2022 and how proud she is of her clay court season so far, “I think I’m a better player because I just grew and I worked hard during the past two years,” Swiatek explained in her press conference.

“I feel like I’m progressing, so I guess I should be a better tennis player. Comparing the results, or my feelings, two years ago it was all kind of new for me, and I think I won so many matches also because nobody really expected it.

“When the streak started, I wasn’t even second in the rankings, so I think other players were also unprepared maybe for my game sometimes. Now it’s different. Now they are prepared, and I feel like I keep having a target on my back, because I’m No. 1. So I think actually I’m more proud of what’s happening right now and winning all these titles this year already has shown that we are going on the right path.”

Despite her recent dominance, Swiatek isn’t resting on her laurels as she continues to seek improvement.

The Pole has been working on several areas on her game including the serve as she has become a more aggressive player over the last couple of years.

Swiatek spoke on the changes she has made with her coach as she seeks more consistent improvement, “Changing the technique, I think it allowed me to serve faster. We worked on my placement as well, so it got better for sure. I feel like I have more options when I’m serving,” Swiatek told the Roland Garros website.

“As you could see in Rome, for example, I had many situations when I was a break point down, and I was able to kind of save the game with my first serve. So this tournament showed that we are going in the right direction. Next goal is to keep my serve at a consistent level throughout the whole season. We’ll see how that’s going to go.

“But I think overall my coach from the beginning had a great idea about my serve. The other thing is me implementing it, so we are working hard for the movement to be smooth and to get muscle memory, so even under the biggest pressure and stress, I’m going to be serving the same way.”

Swiatek will begin her campaign against qualifier Leolia Jeanjean in her opening round match on Monday with potentially Naomi Osaka awaiting in round two.

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Roland Garros 2024: Practice Makes Perfect For Carlos Alcaraz In Roland Garros Title Bid

Carlos Alcaraz is looking to overcome the pain barrier as he searches for Roland Garros glory.

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Carlos Alcaraz is bidding for a first Roland Garros title but the Spaniard will need to overcome the pain barrier in order to achieve his goal.

The world number three enters this year’s tournament with mixed preparations having suffered an injury during practice in Monte-Carlo.

Alcaraz failed to play in Barcelona, where he was defending champion, before exiting Madrid at the quarter-finals stage to eventual winner Andrey Rublev.

Despite Alcaraz’s lack of fitness, the Spaniard will feel he has a good chance of achieving a special landmark as he has the opportunity to win 75% of the career Grand Slam.

Speaking ahead of the fortnight Alcaraz admitted he is feeling better but needs to change some psychological feelings when hitting the forehand again, “I’m feeling better. At least I can practise, hit balls without pain. That’s a really good point for me,” Alcaraz explained in his pre-tournament press conference.

“I’m not feeling any pain in the practices when I step on the court. But I’m still thinking about it when I am hitting forehands. Probably I’m gonna say I’m a little bit scared about hitting every forehand 100 percent. So I have to change it in my first match.”

Roland Garros holds a special place in Alcaraz’s heart having had good memories and matches in the past with the Spaniard reaching the semi-finals last year.

Now Alcaraz is aiming to win his maiden title in Paris as he continues his development at an elite level.

The Spaniard spoke about how special Roland Garros is and spoke about how wide open this year’s tournament is given the form and fitness of Novak Djokovic and Jannik Sinner, “Right now, I don’t see a clear favourite to win the tournament, but there is a wide range of players who can do it,” Alcaraz explained.

“It’s Roland-Garros and it’s a really special tournament. Everybody wants to do good results here. This tournament is one of the main reasons that I’m practicing every day. I want to be a better player, to be able to win these kinds of tournaments.”

Alcaraz starts his Roland Garros on Sunday against lucky loser J.J. Wolf.

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Tomas Machac Stuns Novak Djokovic To Reach Maiden ATP Final In Geneva

Tomas Machac is into his first career ATP final after stunning Novak Djokovic in Geneva.

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Tomas Machac is into his first ATP final after defeating Novak Djokovic 6-4 0-6 6-1 in Geneva.

The world number one seemed to be struggling physically throughout the contest as Machac earned the biggest win of his career.

After trailing 4-1 in the opening set, Machac played aggressive tennis against a sub-par Djokovic to win five games in a row and take the opening set.

In the second set Djokovic was back to his brilliant best as he won six consecutive games to level the match at one set all.

However the Serb was clearly struggling with his fitness and conditioning as Machac secured the biggest win of his career, reaching a first ATP final.

Speaking after the match Machac was lost for words as he looks ahead to Saturday’s showdown, “I have no reaction right now, I just fought for every ball,” Machac told the ATP website.

“When you play against Novak you just hope. You just try to play your best and see what it looks like. I am looking forward to playing in a final for the first time.”

As for Djokovic, the Serb is yet to reach a final this year and will need to get his form back on track as he prepares to begin his Roland Garros title defence against Pierre-Hughes Herbert.

Meanwhile Machac will play either Casper Ruud or Flavio Cobolli in the final.

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