Taylor Fritz Moves Into A New Phase Of Career Following Shock Indian Wells Win - UBITENNIS
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Taylor Fritz Moves Into A New Phase Of Career Following Shock Indian Wells Win

The American entered into a final showdown with Rafael Nadal nursing an injury and was the underdog. Despite having the odds against him, he prevailed in straight sets to win the biggest title of his career to date.

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Those of us in the sports writing profession can too easily resort to cliches when describing breakthrough feats from extraordinary athletes on consequential stages. We sometimes shower players with praise that may not be excessive, laud them for performances that might be overrated, and extol their virtues somewhat hyperbolically. That is the nature of our craft.

 

But as I sit here in front of a keyboard trying to put Taylor Fritz’s  Indian Wells triumph at the BNP Paribas Open in perspective, I can state unhesitatingly that this remarkable American has moved unequivocally into a new phase of his career. The 24-year-old hit a number of milestones by virtue of his victory on the 

California hard courts. He established himself as the first American man to rule at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 2001. Fritz had never even been to the final at a Masters 1000 tournament before. He was facing the redoubtable Rafael Nadal in the title round contest, and the Spaniard was in pursuit of a fourth crown.

Nadal had opened his 2022 campaign by sweeping three consecutive titles including his 21st major title at the Australian Open. It was looking increasingly likely that the 35-year-old warrior would head out onto the clay court circuit unbeaten for the year after his best ever start to a season. Moreover, he had won his only previous meeting with Fritz in the final of Acapulco 6-3, 6-2 two years ago in the final of Acapulco.

On top of all that, Fritz had injured himself near the end of his semifinal skirmish with Andrey Rublev. Some members of his team did not want him to walk on court with Nadal, fearing that he might exacerbate his ankle injury or perhaps have to retire early on. But Fritz, despite excruciating pain earlier that day on the practice court, trusted his own instincts and elected to put himself out there against one of the greatest players of all time.

Nadal, meanwhile, was confronting serious issues of his own. He had been bothered throughout the tournament by the same nagging foot ailment  that had kept him out of the game for most of the second half of 2021. Time and again, the left-handed Spanish wizard had survived harrowing battles to take his place in the final. But not only was Nadal concerned about his foot, he was also bothered by an apparent pectoral muscle issue that required treatment from the trainer down the stretch in his semifinal and again in his compelling contest with Fritz. Nadal’s serve was definitely not up to par and his ground game looked ragged at times, but he fought on valiantly on a windy day when he was clearly incapable of summoning his best stuff.

Remarkably, Fritz seemed comfortable physically from the outset despite wearing a blue bandage around his shin. The American was striking the ball with clean efficiency from the outset while Nadal seemed out of sorts and ill at ease. Here he was, striving to tie Novak Djokovic’s record of 37 Masters 1000 titles, appearing in his 53d final at that level. This was very familiar territory for the Spaniard.

But he was rocked back on his heels by the unrelenting big hitting and controlled aggression of Fritz. The home state hero broke Nadal in the opening game with a penetrating barrage of shots. Across the next three games, Fritz won 12 of 14 points to reach 4-0. Soon he extended his lead to 5-1. Although Nadal broke back to close the gap to 5-3, Fritz was undismayed, breaking Nadal in the ninth game for the third time to seal the set.

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The Spaniard took a medical timeout after the set and elevated his game slightly, breaking for a 2-1 second set lead. A determined Fritz broke right back. On his way to 3-2, Fritz fought off four break points. The intensity on both sides of the net was soaring. At 4-4, Nadal garnered another break point after ruling in a 36 stroke exchange which he finished with a forehand passing shot winner, but once more Fritz was undaunted.

With Nadal serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Fritz made it to match point but Nadal erased it emphatically, lacing an unstoppable forehand inside in off a low return to halt the American. He held on gamely for 5-5 and soon reached 15-40 on the Fritz serve in the eleventh game. Yet the Spaniard made a forehand unforced error and then was aced by Fritz, who held on for 6-5. Nadal played a commanding game to hold at the cost of only one point for 6-6. On they went fittingly to a tie-break.

During the week, Fritz had gone 3-0 in tie-breaks but Nadal went one better at 4-0 prior to the final. The feeling here was that Fritz had to finish off a surging Nadal now or adrenaline and experience would carry the Spaniard safely and inexorably across the finish line. Nadal served with a 5-4 lead and had a tremendous opening. But he sent a forehand swing volley wide. Instead of a 6-4 lead with two set points at his disposal, Nadal was stuck at 5-5. He lost the next point when Fritz drove a flat forehand with the wind to force Nadal into an error. Serving at 6-5, arriving at match point for the second time, Fritz refused to buckle. Nadal’s return was short and Fritz’s forehand approach was struck with full conviction. Nadal barely touched that ball. Fritz had celebrated a career altering moment, defeating Nadal 6-3, 7-6 (5) for the biggest tournament win of his career, a triumph that will take the American all the way up to No. 13 in the world.

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All week long, Nadal was living dangerously, winning more on grit, gumption and reputation than anything else. He commenced his journey for the first Masters 1000 crown of 2022 with an improbable escape against Sebastian Korda, the 6’5” American ranked No. 38 in the world. The 21-year-old Korda was driving through the ball beautifully off both sides and hitting Nadal off the court for a long spell, collecting 11 of 14 games to reach 5-2 in the final set. Nadal was attempting to answer pace with pace, and not succeeding. 

Nadal had served two double faults while losing his serve for the second time in that third set to go down two breaks. But Korda was not ready to meet the most consequential moment of his young career.

The son of 1998 Australian Open champion Petr Korda put only one first serve in play at 5-2 and made four unprovoked mistakes off the backhand. Nadal then held before Korda came within two points of victory when he served for the match a second time at 5-4, only to be thwarted by a nifty Nadal backhand lob down the line. Korda lunged for a backhand overhead but did not come close to making it.

A resolute Nadal was back to 5-5 but still struggling, fending off a break point in the eleventh game. In the end, he came through 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (3) by giving little away in the tie-break and winning the last five points from 2-3 down.

His difficulties were not over. Great Britain’s crafty Dan Evans moved ahead of the Spaniard 4-2 in the opening set but Nadal gradually found the range off his incomparable forehand and triumphed 7-5, 6-3. Facing the towering Reilly Opelka—who stands just a tad under seven feet tall—Nadal came through precariously 7-6 (3), 7-6 (5). Ranked No. 17 in the world when he took on Nadal, Opelka was poised to win the second set when Nadal trailed 2-4, 15-40. The American had three break points in that crucial seventh game but failed to put a return in play on any of them.

In the quarterfinals, we witnessed Round Nine in the compelling career series between Nadal and the mercurial Nick Kyrgios. Once more, Nadal relied on his big point propensity and match playing acumen to get him out of a match he could well have lost. Kyrgios was overpowering and disciplined until he served for the first set at 5-4 and reached 30-15. Nadal barely scraped back a sliced backhand down the line at full stretch that landed just inside the line. He won that point, took the next two points, and eventually sealed that set in a tie-break as the Australian imploded, receiving a point penalty on the final point. Nadal was letter perfect and Kyrgios self destructive as the Spaniard prevailed in that sequence 7-0.

Commendably, Kyrgios recovered a degree of composure and broke Nadal at the end of the second set with persistence on his side of the net and some tentative play from the Spaniard. But Nadal was true to character down the stretch, saving two break points to avoid a 2-0 third set deficit and later breaking Kyrgios at 3-3 by adjusting his return positioning adroitly. In a pulsating and entertaining clash, Nadal prevailed 7-6 (0), 5-7, 6-4 for his sixth win in nine duels with the Australian. Nadal won only three more points in that encounter than Kyrgios (106 to 103) but when it mattered most he was the decidedly better player.

And so the stage was set for another riveting Nadal match in the penultimate round when he confronted countryman Carlos Alcaraz. The 18-year-old was on a mission at Indian Wells. His level of play in all four contests prior to his appointment with Nadal was nothing less than excellent. He took apart the capable American MacKenzie McDonald 6-3, 6-3, crushed Roberto Bautista Agut—one of the sport’s wiliest veterans—by the barely credible scores of 6-2, 6-0, moved past Gael Monfils 7-5, 6-1 and upended the guileful left-hander Cam Norrie 6-4, 6-3.

Nadal was well aware of the spectacular Alcaraz run, and knew full well that obliterating his stunningly gifted adversary last spring 6-1, 6-2 on the dirt in Madrid meant nothing now. Alcaraz has improved immensely since then, and he approached this meeting no longer in awe of his idol but quietly confident that he could get the job done.

Alcaraz moved in front 2-0 after a long service game and Nadal was behind 0-30 in the third game following a double fault and a netted drop shot. But, critically, he held on there and clenched his fist, knowing how badly he needed that game. Nadal rolled to 4-2, dropped the next two games but still won the set 6-4 despite some flagrant mistakes.

By the end of that opening set, the conditions were abysmal. The ferocity of the wind—with gusts in the range of 50 MPH—was hindering both players significantly. The situation worsened in the second set and both combatants were severely compromised. It was not unlike the day Nadal beat Andy Murray handily in the 2009 Indian Wells final and was also reminiscent of the 2012 U.S. Open final when Murray defeated Novak Djokovic in five sets, not to mention the Djokovic-Ferrer semifinal in the same tournament which was carried over a day after play commenced with the wind making two extraordinary players look pedestrian.

Who can forget semifinal day at Roland Garros three years ago when Nadal ousted Roger Federer in straight sets in horrific conditions with the wind whipping around Chatrier Stadium uncontrollably? Later that day, Djokovic fell behind Dominic Thiem in the second semifinal and the Serbian justifiably insisted on play being postponed until the following day, when Thiem came out on top in five sets.

Where does this Nadal-Alcaraz confrontation rank among some of these extraordinarily windy occasions? That is a difficult question to answer, but this much is certain: what the two Spaniards encountered—especially in the second set—was outrageous. Under the horrid circumstances, they performed stupendously, but nowhere near their normal standards.

In the second set, as both players served with considerably less velocity, there were five service breaks in a row. Alcaraz achieved the last of those breaks for 5-4 with a sparkling backhand topspin lob winner that defied belief and then he held to seal a hard earned and stressful set. The teenager had dealt with the burdensome conditions admirably. Nadal has demonstrated time and again across the years that he is a more adaptable in the wind than most of his peers, and yet on this occasion he struggled inordinately to cope.

Be that as it may, the wind gradually diminished in the third set. It was still substantial but not nearly as forceful. At 2-2, Alcaraz had his chance, thrice reaching break point in that pivotal game. But Nadal sensed the urgency of the situation and played accordingly. He held on steadfastly, saving the first break point with a first serve down the middle setting up a forehand winner; erasing the second with an overhead winner; and releasing a service winner out wide on the third. From 3-3 and deuce in that final set, Nadal was impenetrable, securing three games in a row to finish it off, taking the last seven points of the contest. He volleyed impeccably in that stretch, much the way he had against Daniil Medvedev when they met in Acapulco a few weeks earlier. The Spaniard’s low backhand volley has never been better. His anticipation in the forecourt was uncanny.

But Nadal was spent for the final while, strikingly, Fritz was not. Fritz had a very tough time himself reaching the final. His early rounds were filled with fraught and he did not do himself full justice. But the fact remains that he came through honorably in the clutch to pull out some very hard fought matches. After dismissing Kamil Majchrzak of Poland (the world No. 75), 6-1, 6-1, Fritz accounted for Spain’s Jaume Munar (the world No. 99) 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (2). In the round of 16 against the Australian Alex de Minaur, Fritz rallied to win 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5). Now in the quarterfinals, Fritz had to work hard again before subduing the Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic 7-6 (5) 3-6, 6-1.

Remarkably, Fritz took his game up immeasurably to beat Rublev 7-5, 6-4. The Russian had won two tournaments and 13 matches in a row but wasted a comeback from 2-5 down in the first set. He was so infuriated that he bashed his hand with his racket several times and brought up blood. It was in the penultimate game of that match that Fritz realized he had a leg/ankle issue. Yet somehow he came away with the crown and played stupendously at times against Nadal, driving the ball through the wind with astonishing depth and control, making only 22 unforced errors, which was 12 fewer than Nadal. Fritz redefined himself with his singular accomplishment over such a formidable adversary.

The Spaniard will undoubtedly use the next month to recuperate physically, mentally and emotionally before commencing his clay court campaign in Monte Carlo. But what of the other major casualties at Indian Wells? Daniil Medvedev had just celebrated his rise to No. 1 in the world but he dropped nine of the last ten games from 3-3 in the second set against Monfils, who sparred with the Russian cagily until finding the openings to blast outright winners off the forehand. Monfils was terrific but Medvedev unraveled and was listless and almost resigned to defeat.

Medvedev has not really recovered from his debilitating loss to Nadal in the final of the Australian Open when he led two sets to love and had Nadal cornered at 2-3, 0-40 in the third set. The Russian sorely needs to win the upcoming Masters 1000 tournament in Miami, but I doubt he has the confidence to do it right now.

Similarly, Sascha Zverev has wandered through 2022 unhappily thus far. He was fortunate to be given a probation rather than a suspension after smashing the umpires chair in Acapulco. Perhaps that embarrassing episode has lingered because Zverev suffered an avoidable loss against the plucky American Tommy Paul, who played a scintillating tie-break at the end to topple Zverev in three sets. The fact remains that Zverev was serving with a 4-2 final set lead when he released no fewer than four double faults to get broken.

Surely Medvedev and Zverev are surrounded by doubts at the moment as they move toward Miami and try to resume their winning ways. I don’t expect much from Zverev in Miami either. 

There is no clear favorite at the moment. Fritz will surely need some time to digest the most emotional and gratifying win of his career. I believe he will play some very good tennis on the clay, make his presence known at Wimbledon in the latter stages, and then do some fine work on the hard courts over the summer in Canada and the U.S. Winning such an important tournament will change this young man irrevocably, but the fact remains he needs some time to grow into a new psychological space and get used to his loftier surroundings and expectations. Alcaraz will be dangerous again in Miami and it would not surprise me in the least if he takes the title. As for Rafael Nadal, he will get over his Indian Wells loss swiftly. As long as his body heals and he is healthy on the red clay, no one is going to want any part of him during that stretch of the season.

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Novak Djokovic Survives Almighty Sinner Scare to Reach Wimbledon Semis

The dramatic encounter featured a fight back, multiple breaks of serve and even an injury scare.

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Reigning champion Novak Djokovic staged an epic comeback to keep his hopes of winning a seventh Wimbledon title alive after ousting Jannik Sinner in a five-set thriller.

 


Djokovic, who only dropped six games against Sinner in their previous Tour meeting, was forced to battle back from two sets down to prevail 5-7, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, in a roller-coaster encounter on Center Court. The triumph marks Djokovic’s 84th win at the tournament which is the joint-second highest tally in history alongside Jimmy Connors. Only Roger Federer has won more.

“Huge congratulations to Jannik today for a big fight. I’m sure that there are going to be a lot of opportunities for him on the big stage. He’s mature for his age and is already an established top 15 player over the last few years,” said Djokovic.
“He was unfortunate today but he has plenty of time.”

Taking on one of the most promising future prospects of men’s tennis, Djokovic’s latest encounter was a match of two halves. Initially, he appeared as if he would suffer a shock loss to world No.13 before he managed to conjure up an emphatic comeback. Breaking Sinner’s spirit who was bidding to become only the third Italian man to reach a Wimbledon semi-final in history.

“We had two different matches. He was the better player for two sets. (Then) I went out for a toilet break, had a little pep talk (with myself) in the mirror,” the 20-time major winner revealed.
“Sometimes in these circumstances where not much is happening positively for you on the court in terms of tennis. These things are necessary – a little break and pep talk to try to recuperate.’
“I was fortunate to start well in the third set by breaking his serve and that gave me the confidence boost. I saw a bit of doubt in his game and my experience of these kinds of matches helped me.”

The first set was a roller-coaster encounter between the two tennis titans on Center Court. Reigning champion Djokovic started out guns blazing by winning seven points in a row before Sinner got onto the scoreboard after prevailing in a 17-shot rally. The top seed looked to be in full control until a double fault on break point enabled his rival to bounce back. Continuing to play some inspired tennis with blistering shot-making, a cross-court winner enabled the Italian to break once again and this time had the chance to serve the opener out. A task he passed with flying colors.

Continuing to take his game to Djokovic, Sinner appeared unfazed about trying to become the youngest men’s semi-finalist at SW19 since 2007. Producing powerful hitting from the baseline, the 20-year-old extended his lead two games into the second frame. A stunning backhand volley followed by a Djokovic error elevated him to a 2-1 advantage. Spurred on by the crowd, the unprecedented onslaught continued with the help of some costly errors from the Serbian. He sealed the double break with the help of a successful Hawk-Eye challenge before securing a two-set lead in his favor with the help of a 122mph service.

Facing a swift exit, Djokovic once again illustrated the fighting spirit that he is renowned for. Capitalizing on a blip in form from Sinner, he cruised through the third set to resurrect his chances. 

Steaming rolling his way into a decider, Djokovic continued his dominance during the fourth frame by winning four straight games. However, closing that set out was full of drama. First, Sinner suffered an injury scare after going over his ankle before continuing. Then Djokovic fended off a break point and squandered two set points before closing it out. 

A stunning sliding passing shot in the decider set Djokovic up with a chance to break and move to a game away from victory. Something he did with the help of a Sinner error which the Italian instantly regretted by putting both his hands on his head. After that mishit, Djokovic ended the clash with a love service game. 

“I’ve been blessed to play professional tennis for 20 years but nevertheless I go through those doubtful moments like everybody else. The inner fight is always the biggest fight. Once you win the fight the external circumstance is more likely to go in your favor. I knew I could turn this match around. I have done that a few times in grand slams.” Djokovic concluded.


 

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(VIDEO EXCLUSIVE) Why Rafael Nadal Faces His Biggest Test Yet

Tennis Hall of Famer Steve Flink joins UbiTennis to reflect on the highs and lows of day 8 of Wimbledon.

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Will the upcoming quarter-final be Rafael Nadal’s hardest match yet? How will Nick Kyrgios’ shoulder recover?

 

The second Monday at Wimbledon was one full of intrigue in the men’s draw. Whilst on the women’s side, Simona Halep was in impressive form against Paula Badosa but tennis commentator Flink explains why he thinks her upcoming clash with Amanda Anisimova will be tougher.

Alongside Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta, Flink also looks at Jannik Sinner’s chances of causing a huge upset against reigning champion Novak Djokovic. 

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WIMBLEDON: Rafael Nadal Coy Over New Injury Speculation

After the foot problems in Paris, there is a strong possibility the Spaniard could be experiencing another injury issue.

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There are fresh concerns surrounding Rafael Nadal after he declined to go into the reason why he was wearing abdominal taping during his fourth round match at Wimbledon. 

 

The 22-time Grand Slam winner was seen wearing some kind of protection in the abdominal area after changing his t-shirt during one of the breaks. In recent weeks Nadal has been dealing with physical issues due to a long-term foot condition he has. At the French Open he revealed that he had to undergo injections in order for him to continue playing en route to winning the tournament for a 14th time.

Playing 21st seed Botic van de Zandschulp, Nadal battled his way to a 6-4, 6-2, 7-6(6), win. Speaking to reporters after his latest win at The All England Club, the Spaniard sidestepped a question about a potential abdominal problem he could be experiencing. 

“I am a little bit tired of talking about my body. It’s not that I don’t want to answer your question, but at the same time sometimes I am tired of myself, all the issues that I am having. I prefer to not talk about that now,” he replied.
“I am in the middle of the tournament and I have to keep going. All respect for the rest of the opponents. I am just trying my best every single day. For the moment I am healthy enough to keep going and fight for the things that I want.”

Continuing to stay coy about his form and health, Nadal offered an alternative perspective when asked if he was nearing his best level once again. He has dropped just two sets in four matches played so far at Wimbledon which is his first grass-court event since 2019. 

“It’s always the same here. It’s not about how close I am to the level or not. I don’t know that. I can’t predict what can happen.” He said.
“But the positive thing is the first two matches haven’t been good. Then two days ago I played at a high level for the first time. And today most of the matches, again, at a very positive level.”

The straight sets scoreline failed to tell the true story of Nadal’s roller-coaster win on Center Court. Taking on Zandschulp, a player who burst onto the main scene last year by reaching the US Open quarter-finals as a qualifier, the 22-time major champion engaged in a match of two halves. Nadal looked on the verge of an easy victory after breaking once in the first set, twice in the second and storming to a 5-2 in the third. However, the Dutchman refused to go down without a fight by displaying his best tennis of the match to draw level. 

Now engaged in his first real test, Nadal was under intense pressure to close it out in three. If he didn’t there would have been an inevitable delay for the roof to come on due to poor light. If that occurred, there would be less than two hours of play left before the 11pm curfew began.

Nevertheless, Nadal didn’t need the roof as he squeezed through the tiebreaker. After squandering three consecutive match points, he prevailed on his fourth with the help of a lob that triggered Zandschulp to smash the ball out. 

Nadal is through to his 47th major quarter-final and is only the third man in the Open Era to do so at Wimbledon after celebrating his 36th birthday. In total, he has won 309 main draw matches at Grand Slam tournaments.

In the last eight, the Spaniard has a shot of revenge when he takes on Taylor Fritz who ended his 20-match winning streak earlier this year in Indian Wells. During that match, Nadal had a rib injury and he had beaten the American earlier that month in Mexico. 

“That last match (in Indian Wells) was zero because I had a stress fracture on my rib, and it was difficult to learn many things because the pain was terrible playing that match.” He said. 

As for Fritz, he believes their upcoming clash will be at a higher standard given the form both players are currently in. Fritz is currently on a eight-match winning streak after recently claiming the Eastbourne Open title. 

“It’s going to be a lot different match obviously. Indian Wells was kind of crazy with both of us being extremely beaten up before the final. This time I think we’ll get healthier versions of both of us, we’ll see.” Fritz previewed.

The question for nadal, is how healthy is the current version of him really is? Only time will tell. 

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