By Kingsley Elliot Kaye
The second Roland Garros semi-final was a double-face match. In a confrontation between two players whose game revolves around their forehand, especially the inside-out, and relentless pacing and footwork, it was the younger who prevailed in the long run, and quite vehemently, 3-6 6-4 6-2 6-2. Ruud’s high rotation spin was expected to be tougher to master than the flatter groundstrokes of Cilic’s previous opponents, Rublev and Medvedev, but it was some surprise that the Croatian’s capacity to move in and reap comfortable points off his forehand came unstuck after losing the second set.
”I played a really solid first set and served really well and mixed it up nicely. I played aggressive off the ground. I have to say that somewhere there in the second set, you know, just things started to turn around a bit. At the end of the second set, start of the third, there was just a little bit of a difference,” admitted Cilic
The first six games went with serve. Although Cilic had to save two break points after missing two smashes and throwing in a double fault in the fourth game, he ended up holding serve well supported by his mighty and angled first service.
Ruud instead missed two first services at the start of the seventh game, and Cilic rose to 0-30 with his effective aggression on the Norwegian’s second service, a little too tame. Then he adjusted his return to the first serve of Ruud as well and ripped the break in a flash.
Serving for a 5-3 lead he suddenly lost control of his forehand, and had to save another break point, but he got away with it. An ace and a winning serve consolidated his margin.
In spite of the odd unforced error, Cilic was overpowering Ruud, taking command from the first shot, also with his weaker groundstroke, his backhand. He reached set point on Ruud’s service and danced leftward to hit his inside-out forehand and seal the first set.
From the very start of the second set Ruud appeared resolved to swing the script around, raising first serve speed and length as well as trying to find depth and greater lift off both groundstrokes so as to move his opponent to and fro.
“I was too defensive. I figured I had to step up a little bit, counterattack and hit faster shots,” said Ruud.
The strategy yielded revenues when Cilic concentration slipped in the second game and he actually lost service, too often missing the target off his forehand.
“It was unfortunately a little bit of a drop in the level comparing to these last 10 days. It might be due to just a little bit more emotional drainage from the last match,” Cilic said, while giving due credit to his opponent.
“And, you know, today it was obviously a big task to play Casper, who is definitely in great form.”
However Cilic instantly rebooted and Ruud had to stave off a break point in the third game by stealing his opponent’s tactics: service out wide to set up a forehand winner. A dropshot did the rest of the job and he raced to 3-0.
Ruud was able to keep up consistency and served for the set 5-4.
He tightened up, though, and missed three forehands. He had to save two breakpoints with forehand winners to recover to deuce. Then an ace, his fifth in the set followed by a backhand down the line and he was back even.
Cilic started the third set still trying mounting up pressure but too many errors were seeping in. Then came the rally of the match. Cilic finalized constant pressure with a first forehand inside-in and a second one inside-out, but the Norwegian erected a solid defence and then fired a backhand winner down the line. Cilic robustly saved second break point, but immediately conceded another unforced error. When he hit a smash way out or the first time in the match Ruud was leading.
Cilic’s tennis was now longer flawless. Mental energy was thinning and fatigue was eroding his footwork. Ruud took a second break with an exquisite sliced backhand passing shot.
The match was most unexpectedly interrupted due to a court invasion by a young woman who chained herself to the net. The incident brought no damage, yet some concerns may be raised about the efficiency of the French Open security services.
When the match was resumed, Cilic earned two break points to get back into the set but failed to convert. It felt like the last fling.
Ruud served at 5-1. He missed his first two set points and had to erase a break point on the way to settling the matter 6-2.
He drummed on with such momentum at the kick off of the fourth set: he first sprinted after a dropshot and earned a break point, then he broke after landing a fabulous inside-in forehand directly off the return.
By now Ruud was returning Cilic’s blunted and no longer angular serve with ease. He conquered three break points for a double break and converted the second when a Cilic slammed a dejected forehand into the net.
Shortly Ruud was serving for the match. He was by no means overwhelmed by tension and held to love, with an ace, a domain in which he had most surprisingly outclassed Cilic, 16-10, proving his worth off return as well.
“It was a great match from my side. I didn’t start very well but Marin played very well in the first set. I was able to break him in the second set and that got it going. From that game I played some of the best of this year, playing aggressive, serving well. I’m super happy with my performance,” Ruud reflected.
Asked about his next match, against Nadal, whose academy he joined in 2018 he said: “Playing against Nadal will be a very special moment for me, and a little bit for him as well. He’s played so many finals, but at least he’s playing a student from his Academy this time. It’s going to be fun.”
Alexander Zverev Deserves More Respect According To Boris Becker
According to Boris Becker, Alexander Zverev deserves more respect from tennis journalists.
Boris Becker has claimed that Alexander Zverev deserves more respect despite Zverev failing to live up to his potential at Grand Slams.
Zverev has only reached one Grand Slam final in his career despite being a regular inside the world’s top ten as well as performing at regular ATP events.
This season Zverev played a limited schedule after recovering from an ankle injury but still managed to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals.
However most critics have been loud when judging Zverev’s career as it was looking likely that he would be a regular Grand Slam champion.
The German has failed to live up to expectations but former Grand Slam champion Boris Becker believes Zverev deserves more respect.
Speaking to Eurosport Becker also said that Zverev’s father being the coach is a more than successful approach when it comes to the former US Open finalist’s career, “In my opinion, he doesn’t get enough respect from the tennis experts internationally,” Becker explained.
“They’re all talking about the young three or four, but don’t give Zverev, Medvedev or Rublev enough respect. He’s playing with his fist in his pocket a little bit, wants everyone show that he is not a thing of the past, but that his best time is yet to come.
“Surely his father knows best what is good for his son, but if you look into the box at the competition, you can also see changes.”
Becker has followed Zverev for most of his career so knows that the best is yet to come from the German.
Alexander Zverev will look to prove himself next season when he starts his 2024 season when he represents Germany at the United Cup.
Juan Carlos Ferrero Analyses Key Areas For Carlos Alcaraz’s Development
Juan Carlos Ferrero has outlined the next steps in Carlos Alcaraz’s development.
Carlos Alcaraz’s coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero has analysed the key areas for the Spaniard’s development heading into the 2024 season.
The former world number one’s season has come to an end after a successful year which saw him win the Wimbledon title as well as winning two Masters 1000 titles.
Alcaraz capped off an incredible season by reaching the semi-finals at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he lost to Novak Djokovic.
However there is a long way for the Spaniard to go if he wants to consistently go toe-to-toe with Novak Djokovic.
Speaking to Marca Alcaraz’s coach Juan Carlos Ferrero spoke about the Spaniard’s development and said that Alcaraz is too emotional, “Be more regular in games, not open doors. Sometimes there are mistakes and it is something that we have to improve a lot,” Ferrero commented.
“Although it is true that he opens doors, he always competes well and at the highest level. He knows it, the other day he already said that Novak doesn’t give you one. He has to improve his decision making and he will achieve that with experience. Carlos is very emotional and that sometimes helps him and other times not so much.”
It’s clear Alcaraz’s high-quality is there but to consistently do it against Djokovic is another task altogether as the Spaniard looks to go from strength-to strength next season.
One area that is clearly a priority for Alcaraz is physical conditioning especially considering what happened against Djokovic at Roland Garros earlier in the season.
Ferrero said that will be a clear focus heading into 2024 but couldn’t guarantee that Alcaraz will play a tournament before the Australian Open, “Because of the year and the fatigue he has been in, what he needs is rest and disconnecting for 8-10 days with his friends,” Ferrero stated.
“From there, the thinking must go back to working really hard, strong and well to start very strongly in Australia. One can never be sure of that. Sometimes you play a tournament and it doesn’t go well, you left home too early. There are many ways of thinking.
“This year we haven’t played Australia and he finishes number two. That means there is no urgency to play a tournament early. Carlos is a player who enters competition quickly, you don’t usually see him without rhythm.
“Although it is true that he becomes more dangerous from the round of 16, from the quarter-finals. I am confident that the two exhibition matches and the training sessions will help us play a good tournament.”
Alcaraz will be looking to play the Australian Open which starts on the 15th of January after the Spaniard missed last year’s tournament due to a leg injury.
Australian Open Chief Confident Nadal Will Play But Kyrgios’ Participation Uncertain
The tournament director of the Australian Open says he is ‘certain’ that Rafael Nadal will play at the Grand Slam even though the Spaniard has yet to outline his comeback plans.
Craig Tiley told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday he hopes to receive some clarity over Nadal’s intentions in the next couple of weeks but is confident he will play. However, the tennis official had previously claimed in October that the former world No.1 had already committed to play in the event before his team denied that statement.
Nadal, who has won 22 Grand Slam titles, hasn’t played a Tour match since his second round defeat at the Australian Open in January due to a hip injury. He was originally expecting to take an eight-week break but the recovery didn’t go to plan and he ended up having surgery. In May he confirmed that he will take an extended break from the sport to heal his body and admitted that retirement next year is a possibility.
“Rafa has been training, I follow him closely, probably every day because he’s a massive drawcard for us,” the Reuters News Agency quoted Tiley as saying.
“He wants to play, he’s obviously planning on playing. It all depends on how he pulls up.
“Hopefully in the next week or the next two weeks, we get some specific confirmation of that. I’m certain Rafa will be here because he’s not going to want to miss the opportunity to repeat what he did a couple of years ago.”
Earlier this month Nadal confirmed that he intends to return to the Tour but admits that he will continue to experience a degree of pain. Although he has yet to give any information about which tournament he will begin his comeback at. The 2024 season begins during the first week of January.
“I’m well, training, and happy. I’m at a good stage of my life,” atptour.com quoted Nadal as telling reporters in Barcelona.
“Until now I didn’t know if I would play tennis again someday, and now I genuinely believe I will. I’m still not ready to say when, but I’m able to train increasingly longer, and the progress is good.’
Will Kyrgios play?
Another player Tiley is eager to welcome back is home player and former Wimbledon Finalist Nick Kyrgios who has only played one Tour-level match this season due to injury. He underwent knee surgery in January and then tore a ligament in his wrist during the summer. As a result, the Australian currently doesn’t have an ATP ranking due to his inactivity.
“We have spoken to Nick, and he obviously wants to do the best he possibly can to give him the best chance to play in January,” Tiley said of Kyrgios.
“Whether he’s playing, whether he’s doing something else, Nick will be here in January and to get him to play will be great. But we’ve got to take it as it comes and he’s got to make sure he takes care of his health …”
Kyrgios recently worked as an analyst for the Tennis Channel during this year’s ATP Finals in Turin and gave a brief update on his ongoing recovery during a segment.
“After last year, I had such a great year, and I’m so hungry to get back out there,” the 2022 Wimbledon finalist commented.
“So I’m doing everything I can to get back out there. Obviously, you know how injuries are every day, just doing the rehab, doing the gym work.”
The Australian Open will begin on Sunday 14th January. Novak Djokovic and Aryna Sabalenka are the defending champions.
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