Rafael Nadal Overcomes Almighty Scare To Book Djokovic Showdown At French Open - UBITENNIS
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Rafael Nadal Overcomes Almighty Scare To Book Djokovic Showdown At French Open

13-time champion Nadal was taken to five sets at the clay court major for only the third time in his career.



Image via Roland Garros Twitter

Fifth seed Rafael Nadal survived one of longest matches he has ever played at the French Open after ousting Felix Auger-Aliassime in a five-set epic that lasted more than four hours.

The 21-time Grand Slam winner got off to a shaky start before defeating an inspired Auger-Aliassime 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, in what was a dramatic roller-coaster encounter. Nadal struggled at times to tame his opponents serve which is illustrated by the fact he only managed to convert six out of 22 break point opportunities. It is only the third time he has been taken to five sets in the tournament after John Isner in 2011 and Novak Djokovic in 2013.

“He’s a great player. Without a doubt one of the best players in the world. He’s very young with a lot of power and great ability,” Nadal said of the Canadian.
“He was a very tough opponent for me today. I think he did a lot of things well and has been improving every year.’
“I wish him all the best for the rest of the season. He’s a great player. This has been an important victory for me without a doubt.”

Auger-Aliassime has the benefit of working alongside one of the people who knows Nadal’s game better than anybody else – his uncle Toni. The two formed a coaching agreement in April 2021 and since then the 21-year-old has reached three straight Grand Slam quarter-finals. Toni was present during the match but sat next to Gilles Moretton, the president of the French Tennis Federation.

Coming into the match Nadal had only ever lost to two players in his entire career at the French Open with the most recent being to Djokovic in the final 12 months ago. Despite his dominant record, the 13-time champion came unstuck early on against Auger-Aliassime. In the fourth game back-to-back forehand errors from the Spaniard enabled his opponent to break for a 3-1 lead. To add to Nadal’s woes, he then failed to convert three break point chances in the next game as the Canadian surged to a 5-1 lead. He managed to retrieve one of those breaks but it was not enough to stop the world No.9 who clinched the opener with the help of a 189 mph serve out wide.

The last time Nadal lost the opening set of a match played at Roland Garros was back in 2018 against Diego Schwartzman. On that occasion he came storming back by dropping just seven games en route to victory. Determined to replicate that sort of comeback once again but against Auger-Aliassime, the former world No.1 continued to be under pressure before finding a breakthrough towards the later stage of the second set. Leading 4-3, he worked his way to a break point opportunity which he converted after an Auger-Aliassime forehand shank. Tasked with levelling up the match at one set apiece, Nadal did so with a shot towards the baseline which opened the court up for him to hit a forehand winner.

More than two hours passed before the king of clay managed to have a lead in the match for the very first time. Using his high intensity to wear down Auger-Aliassime, some sublime defensive skills from Nadal forced his rival to hit a smash long and grant him an early break. Two games later he broke once again before closing out the third frame with a love service game.

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However, there would be yet another twist to the unpredictable last 16 encounter with yet another Nadal blip paving the way for Auger-Aliassime to steamroll through the fourth set and force a decider. Silencing the crowd once again.

With a place in the last eight of a major at stake, both players matched each other game-by-game in the final set before Nadal struck at the most critical time. Two games away from victory at 4-3, he broke once again with a backhand down the line to close in. Serving for the win, he triumphed on his first match point.

“I didn’t start the match well. I had a lot of opportunities in the first set and I was not able to convert so it was tough for me,” Nadal admits.
“Then after coming back in the next two sets, at the start of the fourth it was very tough. He (Auger-Aliassime) has a huge serve and put a lot of pressure (on me). I was unable to push him back.’
“At the end of the match I felt that I needed to do something else. I was able to play more aggressive and go towards the net more often. That made the difference at the end without a doubt.”

Averting a shock exit from the draw, Nadal now switches his focus to a showdown against Djokovic in what will be a repeat of last year’s final. The upcoming encounter will be the 59th Tour meeting between the two and their tenth at Roland Garros alone.

“I’m glad that I didn’t spend too much time on the court myself up to quarterfinals,” Djokovic said following his win over Schwartzman. “Playing him (Nadal) in Roland Garros is always a physical battle, along with everything else. It’s a huge challenge and probably the biggest one that you can have here.’
“I’m ready for it. I like the way I have been feeling, the way I have been hitting the ball. I will focus on what I need to do. I like my chances.”

Nadal trails Djokovic 28-30 in their head-to-head and the Serbian is the only person who has beaten him multiple times in Paris. He has now won 109 matches at the French Open in his career compared to just three losses.

“We are in Roland Garros. It is my favourite place. I’m going to try my best as always. I don’t know what is going to happen but I can guarantee that I am going to try until the end,” a visibly tired Nadal concluded.


Brazilian Rising Star Joao Fonseca Waives College Eligibility To Turn Pro



Image via https://twitter.com/RioOpenOficial/

One of Brazil’s most promising young tennis players has made the bold decision to abandon a dream of his to play college tennis in America to turn pro. 

17-year-old Jaoao Fonseca was committed to playing college tennis at the University of Virginia but says professional tennis has called him in a way he couldn’t refuse. The rising star has played just two Tour-level events so far in his career and is currently ranked 343rd in the world. 

At last week’s Rio Open, he became the second-youngest player after Alexander Zverev to reach the quarter-finals of an ATP 500 event since the category was introduced. In his home tournament, the Brazillian beat Arthur Fils and Cristian Garin before losing to Mariano Navone.

“It was an incredibly tough decision for me and my family as I have been dreaming about living a college life in Charlottesville, playing the sport that l love with a wonderful team and coach, but, in the last months, professional tennis called me in a way that I simply couldn’t say no,” Fonseca wrote in a statement published on Instagram
“Although I will not be attending school, I think it is an extremely valuable and viable path for young players in their way to professional careers,” he added.

Fonseca has already enjoyed success on the junior circuit. Last year he was runner-up in the doubles tournament at the Australian Open boy’s event. Then at the US Open, he won his first Grand Slam junior title in singles. He is also a former ITF Junior World No.1 and is currently ranked second in the standings. 

The youngster has already been hailed by compatriot Beatriz Haddad Maia, who is currently ranked 13th on the WTA Tour. Speaking to reporters at the San Diego Open, she has offered her support to Fonseca if he needs it. 

“João is a nice person. He has a great future, if he keeps working hard and keeps doing what he’s doing. I think he has a very aggressive mentality and tennis.” She said.

“We sometimes text each other, but not that much. But I’m always following.. not only him.. but the Brazilians. I’m proud of what he’s doing. He has a long way and he needs to understand that it’s a marathon, it’s not a 100 meter race.’
“Tennis has its ups and downs. I wish him all the best, for sure. I’ll be here whenever he wants. I’m happy with what he’s doing.” 

Fonseca played at the Chile Open this week but lost in the first round to Thiago Agustin Tirante.

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Injured Alcaraz Pulls Out of Rio Open After Two Games

A sprained ankle a couple of minutes into his debut at the Rio Open forced top seed Carlos Alcaraz to abandon his match against Thiago Monteiro



Carlos Alcaraz after the injury - Rio 2024 (photo Tennis TV)

For world no. 2 Carlos Alcaraz, this year’s Rio Open lasted two games: the Spanish champion had to retire on the score of 1-1 in the first set during his first-round match against Brazilian Thiago Monteiro due to a sprained right ankle suffered in the second point of the match.

In an accident somewhat reminiscent of the terrible one suffered by Zverev in the semi-final of Roland Garros 2022, Alcaraz’s right foot “got stuck”  in the clay as he returned towards the center of the court after returning from the left, and he immediately flew to the ground dropping his racket. The Spaniard immediately asked for a medical time-out, but as soon as he took off his shoe it was immediately clear that his ankle had already swollen.

After having a tight bandage applied, Alcaraz tried to continue the match, but just two games later he understood that it was not possible to continue so he shook hands with his opponent, abandoning the Brazilian tournament.

The match was played on a very heavy court due to the rain that had fallen heavily during the day. The organizers had been forced to cancel the daytime session and play could only begin around 7.30 pm local time, after the courts had remained under pouring water all day.

Alcaraz told the press present in Rio: “I think these things happen, especially on clay. It wasn’t a problem with the court, I hurt myself in a change of direction and this happens on this type of surface. I went back into the match to see if I could continue or not. I spoke to the physiotherapist on the court and we decided, together, that I would continue to see if the ankle would improve. It didn’t happen, so we preferred to be cautious and withdraw as a precaution.”

Considering that Alcaraz left the court on his own two feet and managed to wobble through a couple of games after the injury, it is quite likely that the injury he suffered is much less serious than the one that kept Alexander Zverev away from tournaments for over seven months. However, it will be necessary to verify whether it is just a sprain or whether tendons or ligaments have been involved. If this were to be the case, the prognosis could turn out to be longer, and this is happening less than two weeks before the start of the Sunshine Double in Indian Wells and Miami.

The Spaniard is scheduled to play an exhibition in Las Vegas on 3rd March against Rafael Nadal: it will be decided in the next few days whether to withdraw as a precaution for the first Masters 1000 of the season in Indian Wells.

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Can Jannik Sinner dodge the morning-after syndrome?

Very few players have managed to follow up their first triumph in a Major. Hewitt is the last new Grand Slam champion to immediately win an ATP title. Nadal, Djokovic and Federer all misfired, can Jannik Sinner do better?



Jannik Sinner - Australian Open 2024 (photo: X @federtennis)

By Roman Bongiorno

“The morning-after syndrome,” as they call it. The list of great champions who have suffered from it – Carlos Alcaraz, Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, is impressive.  Some of the most illustrious names in our sport, the most successful ever. Yet, even for those who are legends, the match immediately after their first Grand Slam triumph is often an insurmountable hurdle.

The very young Spanish phenomenon, born in 2003, was the latest striking example. After winning the 2022 US Open and becoming the new world No. 1, Alcaraz managed to win just one set in his next two matches: he lost 6-7 6-4 6-2 in the Davis Cup against Felix Auger Aliassime, who was definitely on fire in that period, and was inflicted a 7-5 6-3 defeat by veteran David Goffin in his first match at the ATP 500 in Astana.

Mentally, it’ not easy. The most important triumph of one’s life, immediately to be put aside.  And go back to work. The media are quick to pounce on any slip, headlines hinting at signs of a career already over: “it’s gone to his head”, “he has made his money” etc.

Less than a year later, Carlos Alcaraz was once more a Grand Slam champion, beating Novak Djokovic in the final at Wimbledon.

Just think of tennis legends such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, who fell victims to this serious syndrome. The former, after his triumph at Roland Garros 2005, stepped back on court on the green grass of Halle, losing in 3 sets to the world number 147 German Alexander Waske: 4-6 7-5 6-3. For many, that was a disastrous defeat foreshadowing a future that would not be as bright as it had seemed. Rafa told another story, by winning another 21 Grand Slam titles, on every surface.

The Serbian, on the other hand, thrived on the hard courts of Melbourne, just like Jannik Sinner. In 2008, after winning the title, he was engaged in Davis Cup against Russia. He did not finish his rubber against Nikolay Davydenko and retired at the beginning of the fourth set while trailing 2 sets to 1. In his first ATP tour appearance, in Marseille, after brushing aside Ivan Dodig, he was ousted in three sets by Gilles Simon. Over the following 15 years Novak Djokovic went on to become the has become the most successful player ever.

What about Roger Federer? After lifting the trophy won at Wimbledon in 2003, he moved to the home clay of Gstaad.  He survived the morning-after syndrome  after a fierce but victorious struggle in the first round with the Spaniard Marc Lopez, ranked No.190. Then he cruised till the final, but was defeated in a five set hustle 5-7 6-3 6-3 1-6 6-3 by Jiri Novak.

The morning-after did not spare Juan Martin del Potro. After his stunning victory over Federer at the 2009 US Open, he set foot on an ATP tennis court three weeks later in Tokyo. It was Edouard Roger Vassellin, 189th in the world, who spoiled the party, neatly defeating the Argentinian in two sets, 64 64.

Even “Ice man” Bjorn Borg, the man without (apparent) emotions, focused only on tennis and winning, lost the first match after his success at Roland Garros 1974. He was defeated in the first round in Nottingham by world No. 71 Milan Holecek from Czechoslovakia. Over the next years he definitely made up for that impasse on English lawns.

A rare bird at last, and not by chance does it come from Australia, a land which is ever so rich in unique species. Lleyton Hewitt, who in 2001 after steamrolling Pete Sampras in the US Open final, immediately won his next matches, two singles rubbers in the Davis Cup against Jonas Bjorkman and Thomas Johansson, and then went on to win in Tokyo by beating Michel Kratochvil in the final.

Jannik Sinner has been building up his success on gruelling feats. Sure he’s eager to be back on the Dutch indoor courts of Rotterdam where he enjoyed a brilliant run last year, only surrendering to Danil Medvedev in the final. Just one year ago the Russian seemed an impossible opponent to defeat. Now, in the last 4 challenges, Jannik has beaten him 4 times. The last one, in the final of the Australian Open.

Rotterdam could have been the stage for a rematch, but Medvedev has pulled out of the tournament. Jannik Sinner appears as a favourite, and is vying to close in on that third place of the rankings currently held by Daniil.

Jannik has set out on his mission. But even if he were to be defeated in the first round by an opponent ranked beyond the top 200, no one should dare cry failure. Italy at last has a Grand Slam winner, and he is not to be downplay him in case of first defeats.

Translated by Kingsley Elliot Kaye

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