Steve Flink’s Overview Of The 2022 Men's French Open Tournament - UBITENNIS
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Steve Flink’s Overview Of The 2022 Men’s French Open Tournament

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Erudite followers of Rafael Nadal have long appreciated that the eminent Spaniard has understood— perhaps better than anyone else— that ruling in the kingdom of tennis and becoming a champion of the highest order is entirely up to the individual. Nadal came upon us toward the end of his teens with a brand of exuberance and unbridled energy that was unlike anyone or anything the sport had yet seen. He matured during his twenties into a sublime match player, a dynamic physical force and a supreme competitor refusing to sell himself short, yet simultaneously displaying immense respect for his rivals and taking absolutely nothing for granted.

 

Over the course of his thirties, Nadal has widened his arsenal of aggression, wisened his ways of moving through matches more economically and efficiently, and lengthened his career well beyond what either he or his longtime legion of admirers ever thought would be possible. Time and again, often against almost insurmountable odds, sometimes staring straight into the cold face of reality, Nadal has confronted his ever present inner doubts as well as growing skepticism among the public, fellow players and the media who have continuously questioned his capacity to keep taking the highest honors in the game with a body that seems to be breaking down too often.

And yet, here he is again, victorious once more in the clay court capital of the world after a harrowing couple of weeks suffering from an ailing foot, quietly defiant about who he is and what he could accomplish, and above all an unassailable professional realizing another dream on the Parisian clay. He did all of this despite needing injections prior to every Roland Garros match to kill the considerable pain and numb his burdensome foot as he battles Mueller-Weiss Syndrome, a rare degenerative bone condition. When all was said and done over the past fortnight, it was Nadal who was the last man standing, Nadal who collected a 14th French Open crown and a 22nd Grand Slam title, Nadal who raised his sparkling Roland Garros career match record to 112-3.

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He was once one of the youngest player to succeed in Paris but now the redoubtable Spaniard is the oldest French Open men’s champion at the age of 36. To put his towering accomplishment more fully into perspective, consider this: Nadal collected his first title at 19 in 2005. He captured eight more championships at that hallowed venue across his twenties, and now he has taken five more in his thirties. They call that enduring excellence. Some might even say that kind of success over such a long stretch is unimaginable.

Making his latest triumph all the more remarkable is that Nadal had come into Indian Wells unbeaten in 2022. He had played only one match in 2021 after losing to Novak Djokovic in the Roland Garros semifinals before his foot condition caused Nadal to shut his season down in August. Few were taking his chances seriously at the 2022 Australian Open, even after he won an ATP 250 warmup tournament in Melbourne. But, astonishingly, Nadal rallied from two sets down and 2-3, 0-40 in the third set against Daniil Medvedev in the Australian Open final, coming through strikingly in five exhilarating sets.

He then won Acapulco for his third title in a row before losing in the final at Indian Wells to Taylor Fritz. But he had cracked a rib in his semifinal against Carlos Alcaraz. That kept him out for about a month and severely disrupted his clay court schedule leading up to Roland Garros. He played only two tournaments and they did not go well. Beaten by Alcaraz in the quarterfinals of Madrid, he went to Rome and bowed out in the round of 16 against Denis Shapovalov in three sets. In the final set, Nadal was barely moving as his foot acted up flagrantly.

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He then announced that his Spanish doctor would come to Paris but no one knew if the inimitable left-hander would be able to perform anywhere near the peak of his powers. Fortunately for this practical individual, his draw was initially kind. He cast aside the Australian Jordan Thompson, French wildcard Corentin Moutet and No 26 seed Botic Van De Zandschulp of the Netherlands without the loss of a set. He was not letter perfect in those three matches, yet his court mobility was surprisingly good.

But Nadal was stretched close to his limits in the round of 16 by No. 9 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in an absorbing confrontation. The Canadian is, of course, coached by Rafa’s “Uncle Toni” Nadal, the man who essentially raised Rafa as a player and coached him for so long on the tour. Nadal and Auger-Aliassime had not met since Toni Nadal started coaching the Canadian. Uncle Toni chose to sit in a neutral location behind the court rather than with the Auger-Aliassime inner circle. He was glued to that seat through a long and gut-wrenching afternoon.

Nadal started inauspiciously, falling behind 5-1 in the first set, although he made it closer before conceding it. The next couple of sets were controlled completely by Nadal, who started finding openings to break the big server and found his range from the back of the court. But Nadal inexplicably lost his serve after being ahead 40-0 in the second game of the fourth set. Although he broke back, he still lost that set as the Canadian reestablished his attacking rhythm.

The match went to 3-3 in the fifth set. But at that propitious moment, Nadal summoned his finest tennis, taking 12 of 15 points and three consecutive games with a flourish, prevailing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in four hours and twenty one minutes. He was most sprightly in that contest at the very end. Nevertheless, Nadal fans were surely feeling consternation as he approached a quarterfinal confrontation with top seeded Novak Djokovic.

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The Serbian is the only player to topple Nadal twice on the sacred grounds of Roland Garros, including a come from behind, four set semifinal victory a year ago on his way to a second French Open crown. He had gradually found his game and recovered his self conviction in recent weeks, losing narrowly to Alcaraz in a dandy of an encounter at Madrid in the penultimate round, then winning Rome without the loss of a set.

Confident after securing his sixth Italian Open title, Djokovic rolled through the first four rounds at Roland Garros without the loss of a set, and was particularly impressive in taking apart No. 15 seed Diego Schwatzman 6-1, 6-3, 6-3 in the round of 16. It seemed entirely possible that Djokovic could repeat his 2021 win over Nadal considering that he was so fresh and seemingly self assured, while Nadal had labored long and hard against Auger-Aliassime in their five set skirmish.

Nadal and Djokovic met in the evening, giving the Serbian an advantage according to some authorities because Nadal’s topspin artillery is more effective under a hot sun in daytime. But that theory ignored the fundamental fact that Nadal these days can flatten out the forehand and drive it up the line at blazing speeds with uncanny accuracy. Moreover, Djokovic’s serve was clearly diminished in the evening air.

Nadal came out of the blocks firing rockets off the forehand while Djokovic seemed willing to rely too much on defense—even on his own serve. The passivity of Djokovic at the outset was very costly as Nadal, scintillating and unrelenting off the forehand, took the first set convincingly 6-2 and built a 3-0, two service break lead in the second. The Spaniard had won 9 of 11 games and Djokovic looked dazed, subdued and out of sorts.

Be that at it may, the top seed found the inner spark he needed and at long last started hitting out freely and combating the No. 5 seed Nadal with thundering shots off both sides, blasting winners  and taking the initiative away from Nadal. Although he had to fight through a few exceedingly long games, Djokovic secured the second set 6-4 with his much needed aggression off the ground, showing more animation in the process.

And yet, Djokovic’s did not maintain his controlled aggression and Nadal typically was not devastated by his second set defeat. The third set strongly resembled the first with Nadal holding the upper hand from the baseline and Djokovic playing reactive tennis.

But once again Djokovic asserted himself in the fourth set, opening up a 5-2 lead, serving for the set at 5-3. He had two set points in that critical ninth game but atypically sent an angled backhand into the net on the first and then was far too cautious with a backhand approach down the line on the second. Nadal passed Djokovic easily and eventually broke back before closing out a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) triumph over the defending champion.

Would Djokovic have prevailed in five sets had he been able to get there? On that particular night, I have my doubts that he would have succeeded. His coach, Goran Ivanisevic, later lamented that Djokovic’s body language was not up to his usual standard while Nadal carried himself more commandingly. I agree with that. Somehow, although this match had lasting implications for both players, it was Nadal who seemed to want it more. Djokovic wandered in and out of sets unpredictably, with his form fluctuating wildly. Nadal, even when the second set slipped from his grasp, maintained a high level throughout.

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Perhaps Djokovic and Nadal realized that their quarterfinal was essentially a final. No one on the other half was going to beat either one of them, and although Sascha Zverev was a looming semifinal threat, he was unlikely to eclipse Djokovic or Nadal over best of five on that court.

The No. 3 seed Zverev had upended No. 6 Alcaraz in what many regarded as a significant upset. Alcaraz had beaten Zverev soundly in the final of Madrid. The 19-year-old Spaniard was viewed as the tournament favorite in the minds of many experts. He had survived a match point in the second round against his left-handed countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas as the 34-year-old meekly netted a routine forehand. Alcaraz survived that strenuous test in five sets and then marched past Sebastian Korda (avenging a loss to the American in Monte Carlo), and Karen Khachanov in straight sets.

Zverev, too, had survived a match point against him in a second round, five set escape against Sebastian Baez. In his appointment against Alcaraz, Zverev set the tempo almost entirely in the first two sets, tightened up in the third, but came through 6-4 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7), saving a set point in the tie-break at the end and winning the match with a devastatingly potent backhand down the line return winner.

That was a much needed victory for Zverev, his first ever against a top-ten ranked opponent at a major. It carried him into his meeting against Nadal in the semifinals with a restored belief in his game. They fought through a marathon first set under the roof. Zverev saved three set points at 4-5 on his serve. In the tie-break, the 6’6” German surged to 6-2, with four set points at his disposal. But Nadal aced him before Zverev serve-volleyed but missed the backhand first volley long. Then Nadal made a spectacular forehand passing shot winner on the full stretch before coaxing another backhand volley error from Zverev.

Somehow, Nadal, calling it “a miracle” later, took that tie-break 10-8. In the second set, with Nadal’s perspiration profuse and the humidity severe indoors, there were an astounding eight service breaks in the first nine games. Zverev served for the set at 5-3 but double faulted three times to squander that opportunity. Nadal was serving at 5-6 with a game point when Zverev rolled his ankle, screaming in anguish as he hit the ground. He would return to the court about ten minutes later on crutches to concede the match to Nadal ( 7–6 (8), 6–6, ret.).

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They had played for over three hours without even completing two sets. Nadal would likely have needed to stay on court at least another hour and perhaps much longer if Zverev had won the second set. He was very fortunate to spare himself the extra wear and tear. He was able to save that energy for the final.

He then took advantage of a very good matchup against No. 8 seed Casper Ruud in the final. There was never much doubt about the outcome. Ruud’s forehand is a weapon against most opponents, but the left handed Nadal broke it down with his razor sharp crosscourt backhand, and pummeled away with his whirlwind topspin forehand to exploit Ruud’s weaker backhand wing. It was a nightmare for the Norwegian to face Nadal for the first time in an official match after playing many practice sets with the Spaniard at Rafa’s academy.

Nadal rolled to 2-0 in the first set, played a poor game on his serve in the third game with two double faults and a game closing forehand unforced error, but then broke back for 3-1. He closed out that set 6-3 before falling behind 3-1 in the second. From there he was unstoppable and Ruud looked beleaguered and outclassed. Nadal regally swept eleven games in a row to close out the account. 

The Spaniard has now widened his lead over Djokovic and Roger Federer by virtue of securing his 22nd major. The Serbian and the Swiss both have amassed 20 Grand Slam titles apiece. Although Federer plans a return in the autumn, he is almost surely not going to win another major. Djokovic, of course, is another story altogether. After his somewhat perplexing performance against Nadal in Paris, he will be immensely eager to hold onto his crown at Wimbledon.

Djokovic has been victorious on his last three visits to the All England Club (2018, 2019 and 2021), and has won Wimbledon six times altogether. He will be the favorite this year. With Zverev dealing with torn lateral ligaments in his right foot, he could well miss Wimbledon. Medvedev is barred from competing there as a Russian player, as is Andrey Rublev. But Nadal surprised a lot of people who speculated that he would skip Wimbledon by saying he has a plan that maybe, just maybe, might allow him to pursue a third title on the British lawns and his first since 2010.

He will start a new treatment and do radio frequency ablation to the nerve in his foot. If the treatment works, Nadal will indeed be back at Wimbledon; if not, he would consider having surgery, which might lead him toward retirement.

Never before in his sterling career has Nadal been halfway to a calendar Grand Slam because he had not won the Australian and French Opens in the same year. So his motivation to play Wimbledon has been heightened by his stunning title run in Paris. If he does come to Wimbledon healthy, it would still be a tall order for the Spaniard to win there. No doubt he would be a strong contender, but would he beat Djokovic on the grass?

I doubt it, although to rule it out would be foolish. In their two Wimbledon clashes, Djokovic stopped Nadal in a four set 2011 final and then narrowly ousted his old rival in a five set semifinal four years ago. If they do meet, Nadal would have the opportunity to even his riveting career head to head series with Djokovic at 30-30. But Nadal has not defeated Djokovic on a surface other than clay since the 2013 U.S. Open.

The pursuit of historical supremacy may not be over for these two icons—as long as Nadal can overcome the severity of his foot ailment. But even in the worst case scenario if the Spaniard is forced to retire later this year, he now has put himself in an enviable position. He has won 22 of 30 major finals across his career. Both Djokovic and Federer are 20-11. Critics would point out that Nadal is 14-0 in French Open finals but only 8-8 combined at the three other majors. That is a valid point, but the Spaniard’s clay court genius can’t be held over him either. Meanwhile, Djokovic is 9-0 in Australian Open finals on his favorite hard courts but only 3-6 in U.S. Open finals. Go figure.

To be sure, Nadal has claimed 63 of his 92 overall career titles on the clay, but the fact remains that he has matched Djokovic and surpassed Federer by winning all four majors at least twice. Djokovic has spent much longer as the No. 1 ranked player in the world than either of his chief rivals, finishing seven years at the top and 373 weeks compared to five years for Nadal and 209 weeks.

The debate will linger. But on this point there can be no dispute: Nadal has mastered the clay the way no one else in modern tennis history has ruled on any surface. His career match record on the dirt is an astounding 474-45.

The feeling grows that someday Nadal will reflect on his 2022 Roland Garros win and cherish it more than any of his other Paris victories. This one was about the size of his heart, his incomparable discipline and the depth of his determination rather than forehands and backhands. 

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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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