Rafael Nadal May Have Luck On His Side This Time Down Under - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal May Have Luck On His Side This Time Down Under

Could 2022 be Nadal’s year at Melbourne Park?

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Image via https://twitter.com/ATPTour_ES/status

Rafa Nadal hasn’t always been so lucky, especially at the Australian Open.

Melbourne generally has treated the great Spanish left-hander rather harshly. If not injuries, it was bad luck. He easily could have been sitting well ahead of both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in Grand Slam titles, say 23-19 in both cases. The fact Djokovic was not allowed to compete in this Australian Open wouldn’t even be an issue.

But anyway, here’s Rafa back in the Australian semifinals. Federer and Djokovic aren’t anywhere in sight.

BEST TWO-SET PLAYER IN THE GAME?

Nadal may be 35 years old, but he still may be the best two-set player in the game. He looked like his old self the first two sets of his five-set (6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3) quarterfinal win over talented, but bad-mouthing 22–year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

Then, there was another significant quarterfinal just a year ago in Melbourne that almost made this Nadal-Shapovalov meeting look like a replay of Nadal’s five-set loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year’s Australian Open.

Nadal didn’t waste his 2-0 set lead against Shapovalov, although all Nadal fans watching Tuesday’s Nadal-Shapovalov match must have had an errie feeling that it could be 2021 all over again.

NADAL PLAYED IT SMARTER THIS TIME

Yes, Nadal appeared to play it smarter this time. He went after the third set until he missed what should have been an easy passing shot down the line to get to double break point at 3-3 in the set. After 4-4, Nadal won only two more points in the set, one on a Shapovalov double fault and the other one a Naval love-40 ace.

Finally, after dropping three straight games to fall behind 4-1 in the fourth set while looking very un-Nadalish, the Spaniard called for medical help while holding his stomach. That didn’t make Shapovalov happy.

RAFA CAME ALIVE IN FIFTH SET

Afterward the medical visit that Shapovalov seemed to be upset about, Nadal appeared to slowly respond to the medication while closing to 5-3 and holding a double break point in the ninth game before Shapovalov evened the match at two sets each.

In that stretch of four games and then the seven-minute break for Nadal between sets, it became obvious that the medication had worked as Nadal jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the fifth set. 

Earlier, Shapovalov reportedly called chair umpire Carlos Bernardes “corrupt” for not calling out Nadal for taking too much time between points and thus giving Nadal special treatment. And the seven-minute break before the start of the final set upset the Canadian left-hander even more.

LUCK OF THE DRAW ON NADAL’S SIDE

This time, Nadal’s luck comes from the fact Djokovic is absent as well as the draw that pits Nos. 2 and 4 seeds Daniil Medvedev and Tsitsipas against each other in Friday’s semifinals while sixth-seed Nadal will go against hard-hitting Italian Matteo Berrettini, the seventh seed.

Berrettini is a strong player, but realistically he isn’t in the class of Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

Berrettini isn’t the most consistent player around. Very erratic at times, repeatedly going all-out on the forehand side, while his backhand is a glaring weakness,

Of course, Medvedev turned back Djokovic’s bid to break the 20-20-20 Grand Slam title deadlock between Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. That says enough about Medvedev’s ability to live up to the task in Grand Slams.

And then there’s Tsitsipas with his enormous talent and desire to win a Grand Slam title.

Maybe Medvedev and Tsitsipas will push each other to physical extremes in the semifinals, while Nadal breezes past Berrettini.

IS NADAL’S BAD LUCK IN MELBORNE OVER?

Nadal’s bad luck Down Under where his lone title came with his 2009 five-set victory over Federer in the Aussie final that brought Federer to tears receiving the runner-up trophy for the third straight time after major finals against Nadal.

Eight years later in 2017, Federer got Nadal back by upsetting the Spaniard in another five-set Aussie final in which Nadal was a heavy favorite.

Another misfortune for Nadal was his five-set loss to Djokovic in the five hours and 15 minutes long Australian Open final in 2012. Nadal owned a 4-2 lead in the fifth set before missing an open line on an easy-looking backhand passing shot down the line with both players at the net. A winner would have put Nadal within one game and one point of a second Australian Open title

BACK INJURY GOT IN WAY AGAINST STAN

Of course, there have been a line of injuries for Nadal in Melbourne, including the 2014 final against Stan Wawrinka in which early in the second set a near-incapacitating back injury got in Rafa’s way of completing a career double Grand Slam.

But Nadal didn’t throw in the towel, except maybe the rest of the second set.

Wawrinka complained heavily to the chair umpire and tournament supervisor for almost the entire seven minutes and 15 seconds Nadal was gone from the court to receive treatment for his back. Although in obvious pain, Nadal came back to win the fourth set before losing the decisive fourth set.

OTHER 3 HAVE AGE AND SIZE ON THEIR SIDES?

Nadal is the small one of the semifinalists. He’s only 6-1. The other three climb the stairs in height, 6-4 Tsitsipas, 6-5 Berrettini and 6-6 Medvedev.

And, of course, Nadal is the old-timer at age 35, while two of the other three are 25 years old and Tsitsipas is only 23.

 Nevertheless, Nadal looked like a 20-year-old in those first two sets against Shapovalov. Now with fresh confidence that he can survive in the heat, even another five-setter, Nadal has maybe his last shot at a second career Grand Slam. Win or lose Down Under, Nadal should still have a great shot at another Grand Slam title at the French Open.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award as the tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspapers.  A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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Carlos Alcaraz In Doubt For Madrid Open Title Defence

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Carlos Alcaraz admits that he is not certain if he will be ready in time to play at next week’s Madrid Masters.

The 20-year-old is yet to play a clay tournament in Europe due to a forearm injury which ruled him out of both Monte Carlo and Barcelona. He hurt his right arm whilst training shortly before the Monte Carlo event began. 

It is the latest in a series of injury issues that has affected Alcaraz throughout his young career. Since the start of 2023, he has also been derailed by issues with his abdominal, hamstring, post-traumatic arthritis in his left hand and muscular discomfort in his spine. 

“My feeling isn’t right, but it is what it is. Now I’m fully focused on recovery and I have a little more time,” Alcaraz told reporters in Barcelona on Monday.
“My goal is to try and go to the Madrid Open, but at the moment nothing is certain. I was given specific recovery times and I’ve respected them, but I haven’t felt good. I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
“I can’t say I’ll be 100% in Madrid, but that’s my intention. We’ll train and do everything we can so that the feelings improve so I can play a match … It’s also a very special tournament for me.”

Alcaraz has won the past two editions of the Madrid Open, which is classed as a Masters 1000 event. In 2022 he defeated Alexander Zverev in the final and then 12 months later he beat Jan-Lennard Struff in the title match.

The setback comes after what has been a steady start to the year for Alcaraz who has reached the quarter-finals or better in four out of five tournaments played. He successfully defended his title in Indian Wells and then reached the semi-finals in Miami. 

Should he not play in Madrid, it is likely that the Spaniard will lose his No.2 spot to Jannik Sinner who is just over 100 points behind him in the standings. He will still have the chance to play a clay-court event before the French Open with Rome taking place early next month. 

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Olympic Qualification Is Not the Only Goal For French Veteran Gael Monfils

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Gael Monfils (image via https://twitter.com/atptour)

Gael Monfils admits he doesn’t have too many years left on the Tour but this doesn’t mean his targets are any less ambitious. 

The 37-year-old has enjoyed a rapid rise up the rankings over the past 12 months following battles with injury. At his lowest, he was ranked 394th last May but is now in 40th position. As a result, he is closing on securing a place in the Olympic Games which is being held in his home country of France for the first time since 1924. The tennis event will be staged at Roland Garros. 

“When I was 400, I was thinking the Olympics would be great, but it’s going to be tough,” Monfils told reporters on Tuesday. 
“There are younger players playing well. If I don’t qualify, I don’t mind. It will just mean I’m very close to the ranking I want to be. That ranking will allow me to find another goal.”

Monfils is already a three-time Olympian but has never won a medal at the event. He reached the quarter-finals of the singles tournament twice in 2008 and 2016. 

Another goal of Frenchmen is the Wimbledon championships which concludes just three weeks before the Olympics begin. The proximity of these tournaments will be a challenge to all players who will be going from playing on clay to grass and then back to clay again. 

“I really want to go and play Wimbledon. I don’t have so many Wimbledons to play in the future. The Olympics is one goal, not the only goal.” Monfils states.
“My dream is of course to be part of the Olympics. I played three times at the Olympics. I’d like to be there again. But I also really want to do well in Wimbledon this year. To reach my goal, it has to be including Wimbledon.” He added. 

Monfils is currently playing at the Monte Carlo Masters where he beat Aleksandar Vukic in his opening match. In the next round, he will take on Daniil Medvedev in what will be their first meeting since 2022. He leads their head-to-head 2-1. 

Medvedev has openly spoken about his roller-coaster relationship with playing on the clay. He admits it is not his favourite surface but how much of a factor could this be in his upcoming clash with Monfils?

“Of course, it’s not his favourite one, but he’s still Daniil Medvedev, and whatever the surface, it’s always very complicated to play him,” Monfils concludes. 

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Matteo Berrettini wins in Marrakech displaying quality tennis

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Matteo Berrettini - Marrakech 2024 (photo X @ATPTour_ES)

Matteo Berrettini defeats Roberto Carballes Baena in straight sets, 75 62, and proves that his comeback is well grounded  

If life is often considered a continuous narrative, it may be no coincidence that today Matteo Berrettini’s comeback journey intersescted Carballes Baena, a player he had faced twice in straight tournaments, Florence and Naples in October 2022, shortly before plunging into his annus horribilis, an injury-plagued 2023.

Just like resuming the story from where it was left.

Carballes Baena, the defending champion, got off to a sharper start, holding serve with ease and earning a first break point in the second game. Berrettini averted the threat by hammering down three serves but lost his service two games later.

Doubts on the Italian’s recovery from his energy-draining semifinal may have been starting to come afloat. However Berrettini broke back immediately, unsettling the Spaniard’s consistency with changes of pace and alternating lifted and sliced backhands.

The next six games neatly followed serve. Figures witness how close the match was. After 45 minutes the scoreboard read 5 games all, and stats reported 27 points apiece.

The eleventh game was to be crucial. Carballes Baena netted two forehands, while trying to hit through the Italian’s skidding spins and conceded a break point. Berrettini followed up two massive forehands with a delicate, unreachable drop shot and secured the break.

Carballes Baena was far from discouraged, and fired two forehand winners dashing to 0 40  with the Italian serving for the set.

Berrettini was lucky to save the first break point with a forehand that pinched the top of the net, and trickled over. Then he hit two winning first serves to draw even. Then again two first serves paired with their loyal forehand winner: Berrettini’s copyright gamepattern sealed a 59 minute first set.

The match seemed about to swing round at the very start of the second set when Carballes Baena had three break points and was winning all the longer rallies. Once more Berrettini got out of trouble thanks to his serve. Carballes Baena’s disappointment turned into frustration after he failed to put away two quite comfortable smashes and lost his service immediately after.  

Unforced errors were seeping into the Spaniard’s game and when Berrettini won a 16-shot rally with a stunning crosscourt forehand on the stretch and went on to grab a two-break lead, the match appeared to have taken its final twist.

Berrettini did not falter when serving for the match at 5 2, despite an unforced error on the first point. Three first serves chauffeured him to two match points.

Carballes Baena only succeeded in bravely saving the first, well steering the rally. But the 2021 Wimbledon finalist produced a massive serve out wide and joyfully lifted his arms to the sky, for a most emotional victory. It means so much to a player whose talent and career have been incessantly diminished by injuries.

It’s been a tough last couple of years” Matteo Berrettini said, holding the trophy. “Thanks to my team I was able to overcome all the tough moments my body didn’t allow me to play. I thank you and all the people that made my comeback possible: all my friends and my family, the people that were with me all the time when I was sad, injured and I didn’t think I could make it.”

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