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.

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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.

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Cincinnati Daily Preview: Major Champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka Square Off

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Andy Murray practicing this past week in Cincinnati (twitter.com/cincytennis)

For the second consecutive week, a combined ATP Masters/WTA 1000 event is being staged in North America.  This week, it’s the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The singles draws in American’s heartland are loaded: the ATP draw features 14 of the world’s top 16, while the WTA draw features all 16 top-ranked players.

 

Most notably, Serena Williams will play what is assumedly the next-to-last event of her career, and will face reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu in the first round.  And Rafael Nadal will play his first match since withdrawing from the Wimbledon semifinals due to his ongoing left foot issues.

Monday’s action is headlined by Major champions Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, who will play each other for the 22nd time. 

Each day, this preview will analyze the two most intriguing matchups, while highlighting other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play gets underway at 11:00am local time.


Stan Wawrinka (PR) vs. Andy Murray – Third on Center Court

Their rivalry dates all the way back to 2005, when Wawrinka defeated Murray in Davis Cup.  Their most prominent encounter took place in the 2017 Roland Garros semifinals, when Stan outlasted Andy in a five-setter that lasted over four-and-a-half hours.  And neither man has been the same since that grueling battle.  Just weeks later, Murray’s hip problems derailed his career, while Wawrinka would undergo knee surgery.  Both men have now battled multiple serious injuries over the last five years.  Overall Andy is 12-9 against Stan, and 8-4 on hard courts.  Murray has gritted his way to 22 victories this year, while Stan is only 3-7 since returning from foot surgery this spring.  Based on current form, as well as Murray’s history at this event, where he is a two-time champion, the Brit is the favorite on Monday.


Matteo Berrettini (12) vs. Frances Tiafoe – Not Before 7:00pm on Center Court

Berrettini returned from surgery on his right hand in June, and promptly went on a 12-match win streak.  However, he unfortunately missed Wimbledon due to testing positive for COVID-19.  And last week in Montreal, Matteo lost in the opening round, though that one-sided loss to Pablo Carreno Busta doesn’t look quite as bad after Pablo’s fantastic run to his first Masters 1000 title concluded on Sunday.  Meanwhile, it’s been a disappointing year for Tiafoe, who is only 20-17 and has suffered some painful losses.  At Wimbledon, he lost a four-and-a-half hour fourth round match to David Goffin despite having a two-sets-to-one lead.  And just last week in Montreal, Frances was up 4-0 in the third over Taylor Fritz before losing the last six games of the match.  Their only previous meeting occurred four years ago on clay in Rome, where Matteo was victorious in his home country in straight sets.  Can Tiafoe avenge that loss in his own home country?  Frances often excels during night matches in the United States, with his five-set win over Andrey Rublev at last year’s US Open serving as a prime example.  But Matteo has been the much stronger performer for a few years now, and his potent serve/forehand combo makes him the favorite.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Amanda Anisimova vs. Daria Kasatkina (9) – Anisimova has reached the second week of every Major this season, while Kasatkina has won 18 of her last 24 matches, which includes a title run this month in San Jose.  Amanda leads their head-to-head 2-0, and dominated Daria 6-2, 6-0 at the beginning of this year.

Jil Teichmann vs. Petra Kvitova – Teichmann was a surprise finalist here a year ago.  Kvitova is only 17-15 this season, though she did win a title on grass in June.  They’ve played three times since last year, with Jil claiming two of those three matches.

Denis Shapovalov vs. Grigor Dimitrov (16) – Shapovalov has now lost nine of his last 10 matches dating back to May.  Meanwhile it’s been over four months since Dimitrov has won more than two matches in a row.  Grigor is 2-1 against Denis, and 2-0 on hard courts.

Sloane Stephens (WC) vs. Alize Cornet – It’s been a streaky season for Stephens, with nine of her 11 victories coming at just two events.  Cornet has achieved two noteworthy results this season: reaching her first Major quarterfinal in Melbourne, and ending Iga Swiatek’s 37-match winning streak at Wimbledon.  This is their first career meeting.


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Canada Daily Preview: Championship Sunday Features Halep/Haddad Maia and Hurkacz/Carreno Busta

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Hubi Hurkacz this week in Montreal (twitter.com/OBNmontreal)

On Sunday in Toronto, Simona Halep plays for her third title at this event.  She faces a surging 26-year-old in Beatriz Haddad Maia, who has already defeated four top 15 players this week, including world No.1 Iga Swiatek.

 

In Montreal, Hubi Hurkacz is vying for his second Masters 1000 title, after winning his first last year in Miami.  In Sunday’s championship match, he plays Pablo Carreno Busta, who at 31-years-old has reached his first Masters 1000 final in his 52nd appearance.


Beatriz Haddad Maia vs. Simona Halep (15) – 1:30pm on Centre Court in Toronto

What a season Haddad Maia is having.  She started the year ranked 83rd in the world, but with 43 match wins and three titles at all levels, she will debut inside the top 16 on Monday.  She is the first Brazilian to reach a WTA 1000 singles final.  Beatriz credits her 2022 success to focusing on being more aggressive.  But Halep is a player who has achieved much success by absorbing her opponents’ power and using it against them.  And after a solid yet underwhelming season, Simona says her fire is back this week in Toronto.  This will be her fourth meeting with Haddad Maia, and her third this year.  She leads Beatriz 2-1, though they split their two 2022 encounters.  In a match of this magnitude, which is new territory for Haddad Maia, Halep’s experience and more consistent style make her the favorite to win her third title in Canada.


Hubert Hurkacz (8) vs. Pablo Carreno Busta – Not Before 4:00pm on Court Central in Montreal

Hubi’s path to this final has been a complicated one.  All four of his matches went the distance, and he even had to save a match point against Albert Ramos-Vinolas.  Meanwhile, Pablo had advanced to his first Masters 1000 final rather decisively, only dropping one set to this stage.  Hurkacz and Carreno Busta are 1-1 at tour level, as each earned a hard court victory over the other last year.  Three of the four sets they contested were decided by tiebreaks, which is not surprising given their contrasting styles.  Hubi will look to dictate matters with his serve, while Pablo will look to extend points and force Hurkacz into long baseline rallies.   However, Hubi often doesn’t mind participating in long rallies.  As impressive as Carreno Busta’s level has been this week, Hurkacz has been the better player this season.  Hubi’s serve and powerful groundstrokes make him a slight favorite to win his second Masters 1000 crown.


Other Notable Matches on Sunday:

Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula (3) vs. Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez – Gauff and Pegula were finalists this year at Roland Garros.  If they win on Sunday, Gauff will become the new world No.1 in doubles, and be the youngest player to do so since Martina Hingis.  Melichar-Martinez and Perez have already defeated three seeded teams this week.

Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski (3) vs. Dan Evans and John Peers – Koolhof and Skupski lead the year-to-date doubles rankings, and are playing for their sixth title of the season.  This is only the second event in 2022 for Evans and Peers as a team.  Evans was also a semifinalist this week in singles.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP Montreal: Ruud Thrashes Auger-Aliassime To Reach Semis, Mixed Results For Brits

Casper Ruud eased past Felix Auger-Aliassime to set up a semi-final meeting with Hubert Hurkacz in Montreal.

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Casper Ruud (@OBNmontreal - Twitter)

Casper Ruud only dropped three games against Felix Auger-Aliassime to reach the semi-finals in Montreal.

 

The Norwegian is into the semi-finals in Canada after a dominant performance over home favourite Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Ruud dominated from the start of the match as he produced a sublime performance only committing nine unforced errors throughout the match to reach the last four.

Ruud has had a good season on hard courts this season and is looking to make his second consecutive hard court Masters 1000 final after reaching the final in Miami.

Speaking after the match Ruud admitted he got a bit lucky but is happy to be in the last four in Canada, “It was one of those days where everything goes in one favour and luckily it was in my favour,” Ruud told the ATP website.

“With a player like Felix, you need to rely on some margins going your way. I didn’t expect them to all go on my side. It was a bit of a difficult start. I got broken but then was able to turn everything around. I hit my spots, made the shots I needed to and make him hit a lot of balls. That was the game plan and it worked well.

“The last hard-court tournament I played in was in Miami where I reached the final. I wanted to make a deep run here. I didn’t think it was too likely, being the first hard-court tournament back, but I have been playing great from the first point in the first match.”

Ruud will look to claim his first Masters 1000 title this week and rise to four in the world in the ATP rankings.

Next for Ruud is the only Masters 1000 champion left in the draw in the form of Hubert Hurkacz.

Hurkacz defeated the in-form Nick Kyrgios 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 6-1 to reach the semi-finals in Canada.

The eighth seed produced some big-serving and bold decision making as he reached his first semi-final since winning the Halle title.

Heading into their match, Ruud leads the head-to-head 1-0 where the Norwegian was victorious at Roland Garros this year.

Mixed results for British hopefuls

Meanwhile it was a mixed night for British players as Dan Evans reached his second career Masters 1000 semi-final while Jack Draper exited the tournament in the last eight.

Evans defeated Tommy Paul 1-6 6-3 6-4 to reach a landmark moment in his career in Montreal.

After his win Evans described the win as ‘extra special’ as he looks forward to a semi-final meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta, “The crowd, that’s what they buy their tickets for. That’s live sport,” Evans told the ATP website.

“You never know what’s going to happen. It was an amazing match, amazing atmosphere. I played on the court before. In the day it was amazing, but at night, there’s something about playing sport at night, it’s extra special.”

Evans will now play Carreno Busta in the last four after the Spaniard defeated British qualifier Jack Draper 7-6(4) 6-1.

Draper defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas earlier in the week but was no match for the resilient Spaniard.

Saturday’s semi-final will be the first meeting between Evans and Carreno Busta.

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