Category Archives: Rafael Nadal

Real Talk: McEnroe Opens His Mouth, Talks Nadal at the French

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Rafael Nadal has been back on the ATP for three months, and it’s like he never left. Nadal is 21-2 on the year with three titles including decimations of the fields in Sao Paulo and Acapulco and a run to his third Indian Wells title on his “least favorite surface.” Nonetheless, Nadal currently sits at No. 5 in the ATP rankings with little opportunity to make a dent in the list due to massive numbers of points to defend from 2012. Even prior to Nadal’s defeat at the hands of Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo, snapping his streak of eight consecutive titles, the discussion about whether or not Roland Garros should bump Nadal up to a higher seeding has run rampant.

Guy Forget, a member of the Roland Garros seeding committee, first stated to Reuters that it would be a shame to see Nadal and Djokovic potentially square off in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.

“The rules state the grand slam events have the right to change the seeding regarding the situation of the players. Wimbledon has done that in the past,” Forget said, as reported by Matt Cronin of tennis.com. “I would not find it illogical to change the seeds.”

As if the continuing speculation wasn’t enough, John McEnroe threw his opinion into the bullring on Tuesday. In an interview with Richard Pagliaro of tennis.com, McEnroe made his feelings known on the subject in a way that only he can.

“Let me put it to you this way: I guarantee you that none of those four guys, as great as they are, want to see him in the quarters,” McEnroe said. “Quite honestly, I would seed him number one. I’d seed him number one, actually, because I think he deserves that. I think the other players deserve it.”

“Certainly, you can’t even possibly question if he should be [seeded] ahead of David Ferrer, as much as I respect him, or for that matter even Murray on clay,” McEnroe said. “Djokovic is the only one, given his accomplishments on clay, that you could possibly make an argument deserves to be seeded ahead of [Nadal]…I don’t know that they [the Roland Garros seeding committee] are willing to change the seedings at their event.”

Personally, the whole idea of changing seedings at slams has always been ridiculous. Wimbledon has a track record of this, notably bumping Maria Sharapova to the 24th seed at the 2009 event; Sharapova was on the comeback from shoulder surgery at the time and was ranked 59th in the world. There’s no doubt that Nadal and Djokovic are the prohibitive co-favorites to lift the trophy at Roland Garros; however, in a sport where ranking and the benefits that come with a certain number are so critical for 99% of its players, altering of seedings just seems to trivialize the others’ accomplishments.

Take McEnroe’s example of Murray and Ferrer. If the argument is to seed Nadal above them both due to the gulf in clay court prowess and accomplishments, then the same argument could be used to seed Ferrer above Murray. Murray hasn’t reached a semifinal on clay since Roland Garros in 2011, and many do not consider him one of the four best players in the world on clay. If Roland Garros is going to change the seedings to “show respect” for Nadal’s accomplishments, then where do they draw the line? Do his accomplishments matter more because he’s won 11 major titles? Does that not show him preferential treatment?

If Nadal wants to win his eighth Roland Garros title, the odds are great that he’s still going to have to defeat two of Murray, Federer and Djokovic to get there. Considering his combined head-to-head record against them on clay is 28-5, does it honestly matter the order in which he does it? Considering the history of unpredictability in Paris, it’s almost as likely that he’ll instead need to navigate a draw Wawrinka, Monaco and Amagro to reach the final. On the other hand, if Djokovic wants to win Roland Garros and complete the career Grand Slam, it’s almost a sure bet that he’ll have to beat Nadal to do it. If he loses to Nadal, and it doesn’t matter when, the entire point is moot anyway.

It’s up to the draw to decide, and no one or nothing else.

Flags for ALL the Tennis Players!

Apparently this guy is some important soccer player? Yeah, whatever.

Tennis was a part of the inaugural 1896 Olympic Games in Athens but was dropped after the 1924 Games. After two appearances as a demonstration sport, it returned as a medal event in the 1988 Games. It has been argued that tennis, as a tournament sport, has no place at the Olympics; many have argued whether an Olympic gold holds equal merit to a Grand Slam title. Elena Dementieva never won a Grand Slam, but is widely considered a sporting hero in Russia for bringing home the gold in Beijing. Clearly Mr. Hamann hasn’t heard any of this, or doesn’t understand the definition of pinnacle.

Tim Henman:

 “I have some great memories of that Olympics, such as going to the Opening Ceremony – that was fantastic, walking into the stadium and being around all those other athletes. I loved the opportunity at the Olympics to watch other sports, to see other athletes in action. Winning a medal at the Olympics is very special.”

Roger Federer:

“…The Olympic gold is a dream for me.  I believe I can handle the pressure but the Olympics is a different animal because you only do get an opportunity every four years.”

Venus Williams:

“That’s all I’ve fought for this whole year, so I hope that I can play well there. For me it will just be an honor to be there, and try to capitalize on that moment…they’re the time of my life, especially when I got to win. But also being able to get to that point in my career has been amazing for me.”

Victoria Azarenka:

 “I have an…opportunity to represent my country at such an event and it’s just something unexplainable in words.”

The Opening Ceremony for the London Games will take place on July 27th, and tennis players will have a huge presence. I’m not kidding. At present, EIGHT tennis players will be the flag bearer for their nation at the ceremony: Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus), Novak Djokovic (Serbia), Max Mirnyi (Belarus), Rafael Nadal (Spain), Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland), Maria Sharapova (Russia), Horia Tecau (Romania) and Stephanie Vogt (Liechtenstein). Number nine Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) was reportedly confirmed earlier in the week, but the Bulgarian Olympic Committee released a statement that their decision had not yet been made. Lindsay Davenport, commentating for Tennis Channel in Stanford last week, let it slip that Serena Williams is on the short list for the United States, which would bring the total to 10. It was also reported that Federer was asked to be the flag bearer (again) for Switzerland, but is mulling over turning it down to give someone else an opportunity.

It was great for tennis when two or three players were selected for the honor. Are we in overkill territory now? Perhaps. In Beijing, two players carried the flag: Roger Federer (Switzerland) and Fernando Gonzalez (Chile). In Athens, four players enjoyed the honor: Federer, Claudine Schaul (Luxembourg), Paradorn Srichaphan (Thailand) and Abdo Abdallah (Djibouti). Now, we all know tennis players are professionals. They travel the world every year for tournaments, and have their big moments at the four Grand Slams. Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Sharapova receive millions of dollars in endorsements from companies around the world. Of course the Olympics are special to them, but for different reasons. On the tours, players are playing for themselves, and rarely have an opportunity to play for their country. On the other hand, there are some tennis players who are living the Olympic dream. Stephanie Vogt, who has received an ITF invitation, will be leading a team of three athletes in the Parade of Nations. Three. Max Mirnyi and Horia Tecau are doubles specialists, who are probably not as well known outside of their nations and tennis circles.  This is their moment too.

At the end of the day, the Parade of Nations is a fitting name. Countries put their best on display, and tennis players are probably some of the best known athletes from many of these countries. Yes, the wrestlers, swimmers and rowers toil for years to have their moment in the sun at the Olympics. But do most of you know their names? It’s a harsh question, but one that needs to be examined. It’s an honor for all athletes just to make it there and they all play under the same flag, no matter who is holding it.

Rafa in Your Living Room: First Google+ Hangout in the #HIS7ORY

We finally found a use for Google+. Rafael Nadal hosted his first “Google+ Hangout” video conference on Friday. The live video-chat included a select group of fans and tennis journalists from around the world, who asked Nadal a whole host of questions. Topics ranged from the Olympics and the recent David Nalbandian drama, to Disneyworld and his wardrobe choice.  Neil Harman successfully videobombed and a good time was had by all. If you missed it like I did, the full video is below.

that’s a wrap! Roland Garros 2012

Women’s Singles – (2) Maria Sharapova d. (21) Sara Errani 63 62

Maria Sharapova cemented her place among the all-time greats by winning her first Roland Garros title, and completing the career Grand Slam. She is the only woman to complete the career Grand Slam by winning her fourth major title.

“It’s a wonderful moment in my career. I’m really speechless. It’s been such a journey for me to get to this stage. ‘I could have said, ‘I don’t need this. I have money; I have fame; I have victories; I have Grand Slams.’ But when your love for something is bigger than all those things, you continue to keep getting up in the morning when it’s freezing outside, when you know that it can be the most difficult day, when nothing is working, when you feel like the belief sometimes isn’t there from the outside world, and you seem so small,” said Sharapova. “But you can achieve great things when you don’t listen to all those things.”

Sharapova raced out to a *40 lead in the first set, overwhelming the first time finalist with a barrage of powerful and accurate groundstrokes. However, Errani found her footing in the match, and began to play the style of game that had brought her so much success on clay in 2012. The Italian pulled to within one service break, but Sharapova allowed her to get no closer, finishing strong to take the set. While the Italian began to play better in the second set, Sharapova proved too strong, again getting out to a *41 lead. Errani managed to break Sharapova in a marathon game, but surrendered her serve again soon after. Despite saving two championship points with perfectly executed forehand drop shots, Errani could not save a third as her backhand drop shot attempt failed to reach the net. In perhaps the most amusing moment of the match, the two shared a laugh when the stadium public address announcer incorrectly called for Sharapova to come forward as the runner-up, and Errani raised her arms in mock triumph. By virtue of reaching the final, Sharapova also claimed the #1 ranking for the first time since 2008.

Sara Errani didn’t go home without a champion’s trophy, however. She and fellow Italian Roberta Vinci took home their first Grand Slam title, defeating the Russian pairing of Maria Kirilenko and Nadia Petrova 46 64 62.

Men’s Singles – (2) Rafael Nadal d. (1) Novak Djokovic 64 63 26 75

In a rain delayed two-day final, Rafael Nadal won his seventh career title at Roland Garros, surpassing Bjorn Borg’s record for all-time career titles on the red clay of Paris. He denied Novak Djokovic both the career Grand Slam, and the chance to become the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at once. Nadal improved his record at Roland Garros to a near-spotless 52-1.

”This tournament is, for me, the most special tournament of the world,” Nadal said. ”It was a very difficult match against the best player in the world. ‘I lost three Grand Slam finals – Wimbledon, the U.S. Open last year, and the Australian Open this year. I’m very happy, very emotional.”

Nadal jumped out to an early *30 lead in the first set, courtesy of some erratic play from the World #1. While Djokovic hit back, winning three straight games, Nadal regained his advantage in the seventh game, breaking Djokovic’s serve off of a double fault. After closing out the first set in just under an hour, Nadal gained an early advantage in the second set, and after holding serve for 53*, play was suspended the first time due to rain. When the players returned to court just over a half an hour later, Nadal broke Djokovic easily to wrap up a two set advantage. It looked as though Nadal would run away with the match when he gained an early break advantage in the third set, as conditions worsened due to rain. Djokovic went on an unprecedented run, winning eight straight games to take the set and claim an early break in the fourth. The match was suspended again, and Nadal was displeased with tournament officials for allowing play to continue as long as it had. When they returned to the courts Monday, Nadal broke back immediately, and the match went with serve until *56, when Djokovic double faulted to hand Nadal the title.

Top seeds Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor took home the men’s doubles crown, defeating second seeds Bob and Mike Bryan 64 64. The Bryan brothers were looking to break Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde’s record for all-time career Grand Slam titles. Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupati took home the mixed doubles title, defeating surprise finalists Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Santiago Gonzalez, 76(3) 61.

Five Things to Take Away from Roland Garros 2012

1. The Big Four? Try the Top Two. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal once again proved their superiority over the rest of the field this fortnight. The two, along with Roger Federer and Andy Murray, have been dubbed “The Big Four” on the ATP Tour. It’s becoming more apparent that “The Big Four” is a myth; Murray is rapidly falling back to the pack, and as evidenced by his semifinal performance against Djokovic, Federer is having more difficulty keeping up with the top two even when they aren’t at their best. Federer hasn’t won a major title since the 2010 Australian Open.

2. “MARIA SHARAPOVA IS BACK!!!!111oneone!” No, Maria Sharapova never left. When Maria Sharapova returned from shoulder surgery in 2009, few expected her to be the same player. Sharapova’s fighting qualities were never in doubt, and it was always a matter of her game coming back together. Through all the double faults, unforced errors and shocking losses, she never stopped fighting. Sharapova’s game, and perhaps more crucially her confidence, stem from her serve, and it finally appears that it has returned to her. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing the Russian’s serve desert her in the crucial moments, but not anymore. Sharapova won an average of 70% of her first serve points for the tournament, and her confidence in her serve was evident in both her semifinal against Petra Kvitova, where she served a second serve ace on match point, and in the final, where she served three aces in the final game to secure the title.

3. Hold up on that obituary for American women’s tennis. It’s long been asserted that once the Williams sisters retired, the future of American women’s tennis looked bleak. No one told these ladies. Christina McHale, ranked 29th, is the second highest ranked American behind Serena Williams and there is no one younger ranked above her. She played Li Na tough in the third round before falling in three sets. Teenagers Sloane Stephens and Lauren Davis made the fourth round and second round after qualifying, respectively. Veteran and newly minted citizen Varvara Lepchenko also made the fourth round, upsetting Francesca Schiavone and Jelena Jankovic, and cementing her status on the Olympic team. Only one American woman lost in a completed first round match, and that was Serena Williams.

4. You can’t keep a good (wo)man down. Let’s show some love to qualifiers Tommy Haas and Yaroslava Shvedova who both conjured up their vintage best during the fortnight. Haas, a four-time major semifinalist and former World No. 2, has been slowed by age and injury the past few seasons but deserves full credit for trying to fight his way back. After coming through qualifying, Haas downed Filippo Volandri and Sergiy Stakhovsky before falling to Richard Gasquet in four sets. Shvedova, who reached the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in 2010, repeated the feat this year – taking out Mandy Minella, Sofia Arvidsson, Carla Suarez Navarro and defending champion Li Na before falling to Petra Kvitova in three tough sets.

5. Unlike a fine wine, stars sour with age. Multiple WTA tour veterans are approaching a career crossroads with the Olympics on the horizon. Vera Zvonareva, who withdrew from Roland Garros prior to her first match, is facing a career-threatening shoulder injury. Russian Fed Cup captain Shamil Tarpischev says she will forgo surgery for the moment and try alternative therapy; Tarpischev says it’s likely she will not play at all until the Olympics. Jelena Jankovic, who dropped out of the top 20 for the first time since 2006, won ONE Tour-level match on the clay. Francesca Schiavone, who has been in poor form for the large part of the season, plummeted 15 spots in the rankings after failing to defend a finals showing at Roland Garros.

Roland Garros Final Preview: The King of Clay and The King of the Moment Chase History

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l to r: Novak Djokovic, in pursuit of the career Grand Slam, will be looking to put a stop to Rafael Nadal’s career domination at Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will meet in their fourth straight Grand Slam final and each has a chance to make tennis history. Djokovic, who has defeated Nadal in three successive Grand Slam finals, has never defeated the Spaniard in Paris; Nadal defeated him in three successive years from 2006-2008. Expanding it further, Djokovic had won seven straight matches against Nadal until the Spaniard triumphed in the finals of both Monte Carlo and Rome.

“I have the chance to break the Borg record because I have already won six. The pressure is the same every year. I am here because I try my best every day and because I have a lot of motivation, the desire to try to win the tournament, not because it’s the seventh, because it’s Roland Garros. It’s one of my top tournaments of the year, if not the most important.So seriously, the extra pressure for me is zero. In the end, if it finally happens, it’s going to be another thing that maybe is important, maybe not that important. For me, the important thing is Roland Garros.”

Nadal, in pursuit of his seventh title at Roland Garros, looks to pass Bjorn Borg’s all-time record at the event. The Spaniard has been in sizzling form, dropping his serve only once in the tournament – in his first match. He has lost only 35 games en route to the final, the fewest he has ever lost en route to a finals appearance in Paris. Borg holds the Open Era record, having dropped 32 games en route the title in 1978. Nadal will also be looking to raise his eleventh Grand Slam trophy, and his first since his four-set win over Roger Federer at last year’s event. Federer, after falling to Djokovic in the semifinals, described Nadal as the “overwhelming favorite” to win the title. Despite his dominant 51-1 record at the event, Nadal refuses to view himself as the favorite:

“I don’t feel I’m the great favourite, as he said, because I’m going to play against the number one.”

Nadal’s Road to the Final:

R1: d. Simone Bolelli (ITA) 62 62 61

R2: d. Denis Istomin (UZB) 60 62 62

R3: d. (Q) Eduardo Schwank (ARG) 61 63 64

R4: d. (13) Juan Monaco (ARG) 62 60 60

QF: (12) Nicolas Almagro (ESP) 76(4) 63 62

SF: d. (6) David Ferrer (ESP) 62 62 61

“I haven’t won a set against him in this court. All the facts are on his side,” Djokovic said. “But, look, I feel different nowadays. I believe I’m at the peak of my career. I’m playing the best tennis of my life in last year and a half, and I should use that. I should use that as a confidence (boost) and try to get my hands on a title.”

As the Spaniard cruised through his half of the draw, Djokovic had a considerably tougher road to his first French Open final. First, he was forced to rally from two sets down against Italian Andreas Seppi in the fourth round, and saved four match points against Frenchman Jo-Wilifred Tsonga in the quarterfinals. Djokovic will be looking to complete the career Grand Slam, as well as be the first man since Rod Laver to hold all four major titles at once. Despite his struggles early in the event, the Serbian hit his stride late in his semifinal against Federer, striking 27 winners and making only 17 unforced errors in windy conditions.

Djokovic’s Road to the Final:

R1: d. Potitio Starace (ITA) 76(4) 63 61

R2: d. Blaz Kavcic (SLO) 60 64 64

R3: d. (WC) Nicolas Devilder (FRA) 61 62 62

R4: d. (22) Andreas Seppi (ITA) 46 67(5) 63 75 63

QF: d. (5) Jo-Wilifred Tsonga (FRA) 61 57 57 76(6) 61

SF: d. (3) Roger Federer (SUI) 64 75 63

Djokovic and Nadal rank first and second for break points converted in the event; Djokovic leads all competitors with 39 break points converted and Nadal is right on his heels having converted 37. As we’ve come to expect, this match will be dominated by long, grinding rallies. Nadal and Djokovic both appear three times on the “Longest Rally Count Leaders” list. Nadal played a 34 shot rally against Almagro, a 32 shot rally against Ferrer and a 31 shot rally against Istomin; he won two of the three points. Djokovic, to his credit, also came out on top in two of the three longest rallies of the tournament; he and Federer had both a 36 and 28 shot rally in the semifinals, and he also played a 30 shot rally against Devilder.

The two have played 32 times in their career, with Nadal leading 18-14. Djokovic leads the head-to-head in Grand Slam finals 3-1, after triumphs in 2011 at Wimbledon and the US Open, and earlier this year in a six-hour epic at the Australian Open. The final will mark the fourteenth time the two have met on clay, where Nadal leads Djokovic 11-2.

Madness in Madrid – Blue Clay Brouhaha

The Mutua Madrileña Madrid Open is one of the biggest clay court warm-up events for both the ATP and WTA on the road to Roland Garros. This week, however, the discussion hasn’t been about which players are looking like the favorites to lift the title in Paris, or even about play in general, but about the clay. The color of the clay. The blue color of the clay.

Even before the color change, the clay of Madrid has always played differently than the terre battue of Roland Garros. The main stadium, the Caja Magica, or The Magic Box, is situated at a significant distance above seas level. As a result, the clay usually plays quicker and tends to be more slippery than other clay courts. Both ATP and WTA players have been critical of the courts since the tournament’s inception.

So why the blue clay?

Tournament owner Ion Tiriac first proposed the idea of blue clay in 2009; he argued that it would be better visually, especially for viewers on television. Critics suggested that the blue color is in homage to the sponsor of the tournament, the insurance giant Mutua Madrileña. Former player Manuel Santana, the current tournament director, had assured that aside from the color, the courts would have the same properties as the traditional red clay.

The clay is made of the same crushed brick as red clay but treated to remove the iron oxide that provides the typical orange color. The brick is then dyed blue, and as a result, the balls take on a different spin and bounce. When the courts were laid, the top layer of clay has little traction against the layers underneath it, providing less than solid footing for the players.

Reception to the clay has been decidedly negative. Caroline Wozniacki, who sustained an ankle injury in her first round match against Ksenia Pervak, said:

“It’s definitely more slippery, but then I also completely stopped at one point – you could say it wouldn’t happen on red clay, but then you never really know, it could be the same. It’s definitely different, but blue is one of my favorite colors, so I do like the look.”

Novak Djokovic slammed the courts, specifically Court Manolo Santana, after his first round win:

“To me that’s not tennis. Either I come out with football shoes or I invite Chuck Norris to advise me how to play on this court. Center court is impossible to move on…”

Djokovic later took to Twitter to continue his complaints.

@DjokerNole: First match on blue clay? Ouch. Next time I better bring my skates with me. So slippery out there.

ATP World #2 Rafael Nadal has been extremely critical of the decision since it was announced.

“I think it’s a mistake — not by the organisation but by the ATP…Madrid is one of the best tournaments in the world and does not need this. It is played at altitude. That makes it different already. I appreciate the idea but it should have never been allowed.”

No matter their ranking, players are irate. Ivo Karlovic likened it to “something a Smurf would play on.” Maria Sharapova believes the tournament might not be thinking about the players.

“I’d like to see more consistency. I think [the blue clay] is a little more for spectators, TV and more for buzz than anything else. I think it’s more for show than for the players,” the Russian said.

Other players have been quoted as saying the courts do not play any differently than when they were red – but that is exactly the problem. Gilles Simon called the courts “dangerous” and Stanislas Wawrinka said they are “the worst clay courts” he’s ever played on.

As the media firestorm continues into the middle of the week, World #1 Victoria Azarenka just wants to talk about something else.

“The court is different; it’s obvious, let’s drop it.”

The blue clay has not be the only controversy of the tournament. Attendance has not been close to what was expected, and few matches are actually being broadcast on international television. For example, only two WTA matches were broadcast on the first Monday and Tuesday of the event from Manolo Santana Court. There were four times the amount of ATP matches broadcast from the three main show courts.

Steve Tignor of tennis.com perhaps summed up the reasons for the controversy best:

…Red clay signifies the Old World, and an alternative, century-old Continental tennis tradition. Blue clay, on the other hand, signifies the power of Ion Tiriac’s bank account.

The ATP has released a statement saying that the blue clay had been only approved for this year, and will be evaluated at the end of the tournament to see if it will continue.