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

ATP

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

Published

on

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.).

Embed from Getty Images

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. 

ATP

Hubert Hurkacz Undergoes ‘Knee Procedure’ Ahead of Olympic Bid

Published

on

Poland’s top player on the ATP Tour is not giving up on his dream of winning a medal at the Olympic Games despite recently undergoing a medical procedure.

World No.7 Hubert Hurkacz suffered a knee injury during his second round clash at Wimbledon against France’s Arthur Fils. In the fourth set tiebreak of their clash, Hurkacz dived for a shot but landed badly on his knee and required on-court medical attention. He then played two more points before retiring from the match. 

In a social media post published on Wednesday, the  27-year-old confirmed he underwent a procedure on his knee earlier this week but didn’t provide any further details.  Although Hurkacz has stated his intention to play at the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, where the tennis event will be held on the clay at Roland Garros. 

“I had a knee procedure this Monday, but I’m feeling better already and my team and are dedicating extensive time each day to the rehab process.” He wrote on Instagram. 

“It’s a dream for every athlete to represent their country at the Olympics, and I want to make sure I am fully fit and ready before making the final decision to step on court. The aim is not only to participate, but to win a medal for my country.”

So far this season Hurkacz has won 34 out of 48 matches played on the Tour. He won the Estoril Open in April and was runner-up to Jannik Sinner in Halle. 

The Olympic tennis event is scheduled to begin a week Saturday on July 27th. Poland is yet to win a medal in the event but expectations are high with women’s No.1 Iga Swiatek also taking part. 

Continue Reading

ATP

Motivation, Pressure And Expectations – Novak Djokovic Targets History At Wimbledon

Published

on

image via x.com/wimbledon

Novak Djokovic has broken numerous records throughout his career but he still feels the pressure of trying to make history in the sport. 

The world No.2 is through to his 10th Wimbledon final where he will play Carlos Alcaraz, who beat him at this stage of the tournament 12 months ago. There is plenty on the line for the Serbian who could equal Roger Federer’s record for most men’s titles won at SW19 and break the overall record for most major singles won in the sport if he triumphs over the Spaniard. Djokovic currently has 24 Grand Slam trophies to his name which is the same as Margaret Court, who won some of her titles before the Open Era started. 

“Obviously I’m aware that Roger [Federer] holds eight Wimbledons. I hold seven. History is on the line.” Djokovic said on Friday after beating Lorenzo Musetti.

“Also, the 25th potential Grand Slam. Of course, it serves as a great motivation, but at the same time it’s also a lot of pressure and expectations.”

Coming into Wimbledon, there had been doubts over Djokovic’s form after he underwent surgery to treat a knee injury he suffered at the French Open. However, he has defied the odds to reach the final. His run has also seen him beat Alexi Popyrin and Holger Rune before getting a walkover in the quarter-finals from Alex de Minaur, who sustained an injury during the tournament. Then on Friday, he overcame a spirited Musetti in three sets. 

Despite the challenge, Djokovic has insisted that his expectations to do well are always high no matter what the situation is. During what has been a roller-coaster first six months of the season, he is yet to win a title this year or beat a player currently ranked in the top 10. Although he will achieve both of these if her beats Alcaraz on Sunday. 

“Every time I step out on the court now, even though I’m 37 and competing with the 21-year-olds, I still expect myself to win most of the matches, and people expect me to win, whatever, 99% of the matches that I play.” He said.

“I always have to come out on the court and perform my best in order to still be at the level with Carlos [Alcaraz] or Jannik [Sinner] or Sascha [Zverev] or any of those guys, Daniil [Medvedev]. 

“This year hasn’t been that successful for me. It’s probably the weakest results the first six months I’ve had in many years. That’s okay. I had to adapt and accept that and really try to find also way out from the injury that I had and kind of regroup.”

Djokovic hopes that a Wimbledon win will help turn his season around like it has done in the past for him. 

“Wimbledon historically there’s been seasons where I wasn’t maybe playing at a desired level, but then I would win a Wimbledon title and then things would change.” He commented.

“For example, that was the case in 2018 when I had elbow surgery earlier in the year, dropped my rankings out of top 20, losing in fourth round of Australian Open, I think it was quarters of Roland-Garros, and just not playing the tennis that I want to play. Then I won Wimbledon and then won US Open and then later on became No.1 very soon.”

Meanwhile, 21-year-old Alcaraz is hoping to stop Djokovic in his tracks. Should he defend his title at Wimbledon, he would become the first player outside the Big Three to do so since Pete Sampras more than 20 years ago. He has won their only previous meeting on the grass but trails their head-to-head 3-2. 

“I’m sure he knows what he has to do to beat me,” said Alcaraz.

“But I’m ready to take that challenge and I’m ready to do it well.”

When the two players take to the court to play in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic will be 15 years and 348 days older than Alcaraz. Making it the largest age gap in a men’s Grand Slam final since the 1974 US Open. Whoever is victorious will receive £2,700,000 in prize money. 

Continue Reading

ATP

Carlos Alcaraz And Novak Djokovic Wouldn’t Yield To Medvedev And Musetti At Wimbledon

Published

on

image via x.com/wimbledon

Carlos Alcaraz seemed to be on his own against a vastly improved Daniil Medvedev. The defending Wimbledon champion appeared to be out of tricks.

And Medvedev sensed it.

Alcaraz still scored a 6-7 (1), 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Medvedev. It may look rather easy on paper, but there was nothing easy about Alcaraz’s victory. The young Spaniard just came through when he needed it to advance to what he hopes will lead to his fourth Grand Slam title.

MEDVEDEV APPLIED ENDLESS PRESSURE

Medvedev was always there, ready to pounce on any mistake by Alcaraz. But mistakes didn’t happen that often after Medvedev took the first set in a tie-breaker.

Alcaraz hadn’t served that well in the first set that Medvedev had taken in a tiebreaker. But it was a different story once Alcaraz found the mark on his serves. He just kept holding service until the match was his.

Remember, he’s only 21 years old. But now he faces someone in this Wimbledon final almost twice as old in 37-year-old Novak Djokovic.

NOVAK DIDN’T LET INJURED KNEE STOP HIM

Early in the match, Djokovic looked like he might have problems against Lorenzo Musetti. He appeared to have a slight limp in the right knee that was covered by a band. Of course, it’s been less than six months since Novak underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in that knee.

Djokovic didn’t always chase after balls in situations where his service game wasn’t in jeopardy. He just hit winners when the opportunities came along, and his serve was always ready to win a point, a game or the match.

MUSETTI WASN’T THE SAME

Young 25th seed Musetti had been so strong and talented in his quarterfinal upset of Taylor Fritz. The 22-year-old Italian had looked like he might be a threat to the likes of Djokovic and Alcaraz in the last two rounds in London.

Musetti appeared to be able to run down everything against the speedy Fritz, until Fritz seemed to grow tired in a fifth set that Musetti won easily.

The Italian wasn’t the same against Djokovic.

Djokovic was just too good and too consistent to allow Musetti to stop his bid for another title.

NOVAK THE VIOLINIST

The setting was completely different this time with Djokovic looking questionable at the start. But Musetti could hardly push Djokovic, and ended up losing by a 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-4. Once Novak charged through the second set tiebreaker, dropping only two points, Musetti couldn’t get back into the match.

And then Novak came out pretending to play a violin on his racket for his precious 6-year-old daughter Tara, whom Novak said has been learning to play the violin for about six months.

Some fans apparently didn’t like this, but then there probably were others who became Novak Djokovic fans. Novak obviously is a great guy and dad these days.

After all, Novak has just played his 97th Wimbledon match, and he’s hoping in his 37th Grand Slam final to tie Roger Federer’s record of eight Wimbledon titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award  for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending