Almost a month after breaking the all-time record for most major titles won by a male tennis player, Rafael Nadal is set to return to action this week at the Mexican Open in Acapulco.
The former world No.1 came back from two sets down to defeat Daniil Medvedev in the final of the Australian Open to claim his 21st Grand Slam title. Moving him ahead of rivals Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic who are both on 20. Nadal’s win occurred in what was only his second tournament since returning to the Tour following a foot injury which had sidelined him for four months.
After his Melbourne triumph, the 35-year-old returned to his native Spain to prepare for the season ahead. Now he has had time to reflect on the latest achievement of his career, he admits it has had little impact on his life.
“Absolutely nothing with 21, I’m not going to lie to you. From 20 to 21 there is not a very large percentage (of change). Life goes on exactly the same,” Nadal told reporters on Sunday.
“The only thing that has changed is that now I play tennis, which a few months ago I couldn’t. I am very happy about everything that happened in Australia, it was very unexpected, especially before the tournament started.’
“In my life, nothing has changed. No title is going to change what is important in my life, which are other things.”
Whilst nothing may have changed for Nadal, he describes the past few weeks as some of the ‘most exciting’ of his entire career. He is yet to lose a match on the Tour this season after also winning the Melbourne Summer Set at the start of the year.
The next challenge for the Spaniard will be Acapulco this week, which will feature a total of five top 10 players in the draw. Nadal is a three-time champion of the tournament but two of those titles were won when the event was held on the clay. He says there are two principal reasons as to why he wants to play this week.
“I have played very little in the last two years and because I feel like playing tennis,” he explained.
“After Australia, I had to analyze how my body would respond because historically after Australia I notice a physical downturn. This year was similar.’
“I did not notice the downturn right away, but it came a little later. At the pain level, my body was responding relatively well, after what happened and that led me to make the decision to come. My start to the year has been infinitely better than I could imagine.”
Nadal faces a tough task ahead of him if he wishes to add to his trophy collection in Mexico. He will begin his campaign against Reilly Opelka who is known for his blistering serve and has won seven out of his past eight matches played since the Australian Open. Opelka lost in the final of the Delray Beach Open on Sunday to top seed Cameron Norrie.
“It is a very difficult first round against a rival who has just won a tournament and made the final in another. He is one of the most difficult players to play on this type of court because of the type of game he has,” Nadal analyzed.
“I will take everything game by game and from there, if I advance, we will see how everything progresses. I know it’s a very difficult premiere.”
Later on in the draw he could face either Grigor Dimitrov or Maxime Cressy in the second round. Then he could have to take on Matteo Berrettini followed by Medvedev if he wishes to make it to the final.
One notable absence from Mexico is world No.1 Novak Djokovic who is competing at the Dubai Tennis Championships. The event will be the first Djokovic has played this season after he was deported from Australia following a legal battle with officials over the validity of his visa. The Serbian star is the only player in the top 100 on the men’s Tour not to be vaccinated and currently has no plan to do so. The stance risks the prospect of him not being allowed to play some tournaments in the future.
“It will affect his legacy if he can play or not,” Nadal said of his rival. “I don’t know if it will affect the Grand Slam.
“Everyone makes their own decisions and must live with them. In this sense, hopefully the pandemic improves in every way and there are no more deaths.
“Whether he is vaccinated or not, the good thing would be for Novak to play again. If Djokovic can play the Grand Slams without being vaccinated, he is welcome.”
Nadal is due to play his first round match on Tuesday.
Team World One Win Away From Victory in Laver Cup
Team World take a huge 10-2 lead over Team Europe heading into the final day
After losing the first four editions of the Laver Cup, Team World look set to win the event for a second time as the event reaches its conclusion tomorrow.
Team World Captain John McEnroe was thrilled with the day’s results but warned against complacency: “We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. The job’s not done but we’re pretty close.”
American duo Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe both earned straight sets wins over Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz, while Felix Auger-Aliassime and Ben Shelton beat Hurkacz and Gael Monfils.
“I want to play well for the guys,” said Tiafoe after his singles victory. “I played really well tonight. Just being in a team environment is so foreign to us as tennis players, it’s such an individual sport.”
After winning his third singles match in three appearances at the Laver Cup, Fritz was also motivated to do well:
“Yesterday, all the guys played really well. I felt that and wanted to come out on court and show what I can do. That definitely motivated me. Any type of team environment, I feel like it always elevates my game. I feel like my record in team events is really strong because I have a team cheering for me. I get pumped up. I’m excited to play for them. It just adds more pressure and fire to it. I think I play better in those situations.”
The doubles was a typically dynamic and feisty affair, and after the match Shelton was full of praise for his partner:
“It’s amazing, when you play with a guy who serves and returns like Felix, is as athletic as him, and goes back for the overhead as strong as him, it’s a fun time,” said Shelton. “We call him ‘Laver Cup Felix’ because he turns into something special this week, just glad I got to share the court with him at least once.”
Auger-Aliassime returned the compliments: “The best comes out of me when I’m playing not only for myself but for team-mates. Ben carried me through the end of that match, it was tough for me to get it done.”
Casper Ruud, meanwhile, beat Tommy Paul for Europe’s only points so far.
Matches on the final day are worth three points each – meaning that Team Europe would have to win all four remaining matches to prevent Team World from winning the trophy.
T. Fritz def A. Rublev 6-2, 7-6
F. Tiafoe def H. Hurkacz 7-5, 6-3
F. Auger-Aliassime & B. Shelton def H.Hurkacz & G. Monfils 7-5, 6-4
C. Ruud def T. Paul 7-6, 6-2
ATP RANKINGS UPDATE: Novak Djokovic, No.1 once more
After the US Open the Serbian champion reclaims top spot. Alexander Zverev is back in the Top 10
By Roberto Ferri
“Don’t ever underestimate the heart of a champion”
Rudy Tomjanovich coined this maxim just after his Houston Rockets won the NBA championship in 1995. He was paying homage to Akeem Holajuwon. It perfectly suits the heart of Daniil Medvedev, who proved 99% of tennis fans in the world to be wrong, convinced as they were that he would lose the semifinal to former No 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
But his dream to win a second US Open, after his triumph in 2021, was shattered by another champion, whose heart and class is even greater: that’s Novak Djokovic, who affixes his seal on his return to No.1, equalling Margaret Court Smith’s record of 24 majors.
Djokovic dethroning Alcaraz is not the only change in the top 20: Sascha Zverev is back in the top 10 after almost one year and Ben Shelton, great protagonist of the Us Open, debuts in the top 20 best players in the world.
A few comments:
Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrei Rublev and Alexander Zverev gain 2 positions.
Ben Shelton devours 28 positions.
Sinner, Tiafoe, Norrie and Dimitrov lose one.
Casper Ruud and Karen Khachanov, runner up and semi-finalist respectively at the 2022 US Open, drop 4 positions.
One step forward for Fritz, de Minaur, Paul, Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz.
ATP NITTO FINALS
From 12 to 19 November the 8 best players of the ranking based on the points earned in the ongoing solar season will be playing the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin.
Will Novak Djokovic succeed in winning a second straight title? He appears to be heading in the right direction.
Thanks to his triumph at the US Open the Serbian overtakes Alcaraz also in the Race to Turin.
Jannik Sinner holds fourth spot while Andrei Rublev overtakes Stefanos Tsitsipas and is now fifth.
The eighth position is occupied by Alexander Zverev.
Last year runner up, Casper Ruud is currently 10th. This means he would feature in Turin as a reserve.
ATP NEXT GENERATION FINALS
The Next Gen Finals, dedicated to the best under 21s, (8 effectives and 2 reserves) of the season will take place this year in Gedda, Saudi Arabia.
The 2022 winner, Brandon Nakashima, will not be defending his title, since he was born in 2001.
Taking for granted that Alcaraz and, most likely Rune, will be playing the ATP Finals, we have included in the chart the 12 current top under 21s.
Besides Ben Shelton, other 11 players have achieved their career highest this week.
We tribute a double applause to the four players who are making their debut in the top 100.
The 25-year-old Croatian Borna Gojo, 22-year-old Australian Rinky Hijkata and the Swiss next gen Dominic Stricker all reap the reward for their brilliant runs at the US Open. Seyboth Wild, the Brazilian who stunned Medvedev in the first round of Roland Garros leaps to No.76 after winning the Challenger in Como last week.
Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye
COMMENT: Novak Djokovic Proves His Greatness At US Open
Love him, or hate him. But respect him.
No tennis player has ever been better than Novak Djokovic.
Even Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer have to take their hats off to Novak, and admire him.
Now that Rafa and Roger have left Djokovic on his own stage at least for now, tennis fans love Novak.
DJOKOVIC WENT ONE STEP FURTHER
Djokovic’s performance on Sunday evening in the U.S. Open final was simply amazing. Daniil Medvedev also played his heart out, but Djokovic went one step further. He was sensational.
It was a thrill-a-minute three-set match. It lasted well into the night after starting at mid-afternoon. The second set alone lasted 104 minutes.
Djokovic was the winner, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3, but New York still loves 2021 champion Medvedev.
A FOURTH AND 24TH TITLE, AND A 24 TRIBUTE
At 36, the oldest U.S. Open men’s champion ever, Djokovic obviously has a special place in his heart for the number four. It’s the number of times he has won this tournament and the 24th time he has won a Grand Slam title.
The number 24 also was displayed prominently on the white jacket. Novak, his team members and family wore for the victory celebration as a tribute to the No. 24 jersey of deceased friend Kobe Bryant.
Djokovic lost his footing at least three times in the tight second set, stumbling to the surface once, apparently due to the length of the rallies.
Djokovic could look like he was almost completely wiped out of it physically one minute, and then play like Superman the next minute.
THREE POINTS MAY HAVE BEEN DECISIVE
Both men played great tennis, especially in the thrill-a-second second set in which Medvedev gained one set point in the 12th game before Djokovic recovered to force a tiebreaker.
Medvedev appeared to be in charge after out-playing Novak to win one of his drop shots to take a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. The match may have been decided on the next three points, all won by Djokovic on errors by the 6-6 Russian.
The big question now is what happens next January in the Australian Open. Right now, Djokovic probably wants to play . . . and win what has been his favorite tournament as far as success. But things can change quickly for players in their mid-30s. Just ask Roger or Rafa.
James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com.
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