Nadal Stays On Track For Slams Record As Back Injury Eases

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after victory against Britain’s Cameron Norrie during their men’s singles match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 13, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP) 

 

 

World number two Rafael Nadal said his minor back injury was improving by the day as he accelerated his pursuit of a record 21st Grand Slam title with a victory over Cameron Norrie at the Australian Open Saturday.

The Spanish second seed has altered his service motion due to lower-back tightness that has plagued him all tournament, although it didn’t stop him emphatically demolishing his first two opponents in straight sets.

Britain’s 69th-ranked Norrie proved a tougher assignment, with Nadal pressed much harder before emerging a 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 winner in an empty Rod Laver Arena as Melbourne went into a five-day coronavirus lockdown.

 

Cameron Norrie
Britain’s Cameron Norrie walks off the court after losing against Spain’s Rafael Nadal during their men’s singles match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 13, 2021. (Photo by David Gray / AFP) 

 

It put him into a Slam last 16 for the 49th time, behind only Roger Federer (67) and Novak Djokovic (53).

“Today is better. First day I feel an improvement, and that’s the most important thing for me today, more than any other thing,” he said of his back.

“Today is the first day that I started to serve again my normal serve. It was an important victory for me. The biggest victory is the back is better for the first day.”

Nadal next faces fiery Italian Fabio Fognini, who beat Australian Alex de Minaur in straight sets.

The Spaniard is bidding to win his 21st major title and claim sole ownership of the men’s record, which he currently shares with Federer.

 

Spain’s Rafael Nadal changes his headband between the games against Britain’s Cameron Norrie during their men’s singles match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 13, 2021. (Photo by David Gray / AFP)

 

– Tough nut –
His victory keeps him on course to meet Djokovic in the final, although the defending champion is under an injury cloud after suffering what he called an abdominal “muscle tear” in the third round on Friday.

It remains unclear whether the top-seeded Serb will be able to play his fourth-round match against Milos Raonic on Sunday.

The odds were heavily stacked in Nadal’s favour against Norrie, as he has never lost an Australian Open match to a player ranked as low as the Briton at 69.

He also holds a stellar record against fellow lefties, winning 103 of 117, with the last loss coming against Denis Shapovalov in Montreal in 2017.

Nadal signalled his intent by opening with a serve to love, but Norrie proved a tough nut to crack, going blow-for-blow in a baseline battle and breaking the second seed.

But Nadal quickly refocused to fight back and take the set 7-5 when Norrie sent a forehand long.

The Spaniard created plenty of break point opportunities and finally converted an overhead to go break for 4-2 in the second set.

Another break sealed the set as Norrie, who was aiming to reach a Grand Slam last 16 for the first time, wilted under Nadal’s relentless firepower.

Little separated them in the third set until Nadal made his move in the 11th game, forcing a match point with a screaming forehand and booking the win when Norrie send a backhand wide.

Nadal Eyes Federer Record, 15 Years After First Roland Garros Title

Spain's Rafael Nadal (L) plays a return to Switzerland's Roger Federer (R) during their tennis match at The Match in Africa at the Cape Town Stadium, in Cape Town on February 7, 2020. RODGER BOSCH / AFP
Spain’s Rafael Nadal (L) plays a return to Switzerland’s Roger Federer (R) during their tennis match at The Match in Africa at the Cape Town Stadium, in Cape Town on February 7, 2020.
RODGER BOSCH / AFP

 

The undisputed king of clay, Rafael Nadal is one title away from matching Roger Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record, but 15 years on from the Spaniard’s first French Open triumph he appears more vulnerable than ever at his beloved Roland Garros.

Nadal owns an astounding 93-2 record in Paris dating back to his debut in 2005, when, still a teenager, he became the first player to win the French Open on his first attempt since Mats Wilander in 1982.

Fast-forward to the present day, and his 19 Grand Slam crowns — a record 12 of which have come at Roland Garros — coupled with Federer’s absence after knee surgery leave him on the brink of history at a venue where he has won each of the past three years.

Yet a multitude of factors, mostly beyond his control, have conspired against Nadal and offered hope to his chief rivals — namely Novak Djokovic and recent US Open winner Dominic Thiem.

Boris Becker, a former coach of world number one Djokovic, suggested the rescheduled tournament — pushed back from its traditional spring billing due to the coronavirus pandemic — will be tougher than usual for Nadal.

The heavier conditions could suit hardcourt players more and negate some of Nadal’s lethal topspin, possibly aiding Thiem who has finished runner-up in Paris twice in succession.

“This year is going to be particularly hard for Rafael Nadal. He’s my number one favourite but the difference between him and the other players is less big this year than usual,” said Becker, a six-time Grand Slam champion.

“He’s not in his regular rhythm. He needs match practice. Normally, he was coming to Roland Garros having often played four big clay tournaments, which he had generally won.”

Nadal will head into the French Open without a clay title under his belt for the first time, having lost in straight sets to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals at Rome — his first tournament in six months.

“It’s not a moment for excuses. I’ve spent a long time without competing, I played two good matches,” Nadal, who skipped the US Open citing Covid-19 concerns, said following the defeat.

“It’s a completely special and unpredictable year,” he added. “I did my job here. I did a couple things well and other things bad. At least I played three matches.”

‘Beatable on clay’

Despite the sense, this is the most understrength version of Nadal at the French Open in recent times, Djokovic remains adamant the 34-year-old is again the favourite to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

“The record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can’t put anybody in front of him,” said Djokovic, himself vying to add to his lone 2016 triumph at Roland Garros.

“But, you know, definitely Diego showed that Nadal is beatable on clay,” added the Serb.

“The conditions that they played on, obviously heavy clay, not much bounce, humid, night sessions, we are going to have that as well in Paris. I’m pretty sure that he does not prefer that to a high bounce. I know he likes the high bounce.

“He likes the hot and warm and fast conditions, where he can use his spin a lot. Even though he’s the favourite, I think there are players that can win against him there.”

Another championship run for Nadal, not accounting for potential walkovers, would take him to a century of wins at the French Open. Only Federer, Serena Williams, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert have hit triple digits in wins at a single major in the Open era.

Schwartzman agreed that Nadal was still the favourite.

“Rafa is the king. It’s his house. He went to Roland Garros many years playing good, sometimes not playing his best and he won.

“I think Rafa is always there, the guy who is going to win.”

Nadal Still Preparing To Play Roland Garros Despite US Open Withdrawal

Spain’s Rafael Nadal walks off the court after losing against Austria’s Dominic Thiem during their men’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 29, 2020. William WEST / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal on Wednesday said he still intends to play at the French Open next month and remains hopeful it will go ahead, despite withdrawing from the US Open due to coronavirus concerns.

Nadal also insisted the US Open will not carry an asterisk without its defending men’s champion, even if he admitted it will take place under “special circumstances”, with several top players expected to sit out.

The 34-year-old Spaniard’s withdrawal was confirmed shortly after the Madrid Open was cancelled on Tuesday, with a rise in coronavirus cases in Europe raising doubts around other events, including the French Open, which is due to start in Paris on September 27.

Nadal, who would be going for a record-extending 13th title at Roland Garros, was asked if he thinks the tournament will go ahead.

“I trust it will yes, it is in my mind and I am preparing for it,” said the 34-year-old in a briefing with international media on Wednesday.

“But we have to wait for events, to see how everything evolves because it is true that in recent weeks the situation seems to have worsened a little. But my hope and my intention would be to be there if conditions allow.”

Nadal also explained his decision to pull out of the US Open. “My heart says today is not the moment to take long travels without knowing exactly what can and cannot happen.

“My decision is to stay at home in Mallorca where the situation is good, it looks under control here, and to wait for future opportunities.”

– ‘Special circumstances’ -Women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty has also chosen not to compete in New York, where a depleted entry list in both the men’s and women’s draws looks inevitable.

Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are all still due to play.

“The tournament is still big, it’s a Grand Slam,” Nadal said. “I am not arrogant enough to say the tournament is not big because I am not playing. There will be important players.

“Of course it’s a tournament under special circumstances but still a Grand Slam and the winner will feel like the winner of a Grand Slam. It’s true it will be under special circumstances with a lot of important players not travelling there.”

Nadal added: “My words can have repercussions so it is difficult to say if it is the right decision or not, for some players it will be right for others not.

“I respect a lot the amount of work and positive intentions of the ATP and USTA (United States Tennis Association) to try to come back to the tour. I have taken my decision so you know my thoughts but I respect there are other players in different situations and they need to play because they have financial problems and need to earn money after a few months without income.”

Nadal also said lessons need to be learned after the “mistake” of the ill-fated Adria Tour in June, which was organised by Djokovic and led to several players, including the Serb, testing positive for coronavirus.

“I think most of the players want the best for the world and for people. Of course, there was a mistake in the tour organised in Serbia and Croatia but mistakes are normal when you face a situation you haven’t faced before,” Nadal said.

“The players need to make decisions but I am not saying mine is the right one. Every decision can be right or wrong. We are facing unpredictable situations.

“I really hope people learn from the Adria Tour and we continue in the best way possible.”

Nadal Looks Within To Find Way Past Thiem

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates a point against Austria’s Dominic Thiem during their Men’s Singles Quarter-Finals match at the 2018 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on September 5, 2018. Don EMMERT / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal, trapped in a nightmare first set against Dominic Thiem in the quarter-finals of the US Open, knew where to look for answers.

He didn’t cast his eyes toward the support team in his box or send his racquets out to be restrung.

“When these things happen, normally I am not the guy that looks at the string or looks at the box or looks at the racquet,” said Nadal, who absorbed a 6-0 loss of the opening set, winning just seven points as Thiem rode roughshod over him in 24 minutes.

“I am the guy to look at myself,” Nadal said. “I needed to move forward, to change that dynamic, and I did. But the first step to change that dynamic is not to find an excuse on the racquet or on the string or on something that is not the truth. The only truth is that you have to do things better to be able to fight for the point and fight for the match.”

That’s just what the 17-time Grand Slam champion did over the course of a 4-hour 49-minute epic that concluded at 2:04 a.m. on Wednesday.

When it was all over, Nadal was happy to be in a seventh US Open semi-final but even happier that he’d done everything he could to turn the match around.

“I played a lot of long and tough matches in my career. That’s one more today,” he said after his 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/5) win.

“In some way when you give everything that you have, win or lose the personal satisfaction when you give everything and you play with the right attitude is the same.”

AFP

Nadal, Wawrinka Advance At US Open

Spain’s Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Canada’s Vasek Pospisil during their men’s singles tennis match on day 3 of the 2018 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on August 29, 2018. EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ / AFP

 

World number one and defending champion Rafael Nadal steamed into the third round on another scorching day at the US Open on Wednesday with a straight-sets win over Vasek Pospisil.

Nadal, spared the worst of the heat thanks to his late-night start on Arthur Ashe Stadium, sped past Pospisil 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

His only hiccup came in the second set when he dropped his serve to fall 2-4 down.

“The conditions are tough,” Nadal said. “It was important to start very well with that break. To win in straight sets is always very positive, especially in these conditions. It’s almost midnight, very happy about the victory.”

Former champions Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro also advanced, while 2012 winner Andy Murray, like Wawrinka back at Flushing Meadows after missing last year through injury, was bounced by Fernando Verdasco.

Wawrinka survived searing mid-day heat and a spirited Ugo Humbert.

“I knew it would be a difficult match,” said Wawrinka, who was pleased to find himself feeling fit after prevailing 7-6 (7/5), 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in three hours and 21 minutes.

“My level is there. I’m playing really good tennis,” added Wawrinka, who was unable to defend his 2016 title after undergoing two knee surgeries last year.

“I think there is a good chance that I’m playing better in the next round,” said the Swiss, who will face Canadian Milos Raonic for a place in the last 16.

Meanwhile, Murray, the 2012 US Open winner, who was playing his first Grand Slam in 14 months, is still fighting to find full fitness after hip surgery in January.

He gave himself a mixed review after a 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 loss to Spain’s Fernando Verdasco, whose only win over Murray in 14 prior meetings was at the 2009 Australian Open.

“I think some of the tennis I played today was some of the best I’ve played since I had the surgery or since I came back,” said Murray.

He was disappointed to surrender the first set after holding a set point but pleased he had enough in the tank to push Verdasco through five break points in the final game before the Spaniard converted his third match point.

Even with his current limitations, Murray is a dangerous opponent, Verdasco said.

“He’s an unbelievable player, so talented. No matter how much his hip hurts or whatever, he’s going to fight and he’s going to put all the balls he can in and run,” Verdasco said after earning a third-round meeting with 2009 champion del Potro.

The third-seeded Argentinian, who career was nearly ended by wrist injuries after his maiden Grand Slam triumph here, defeated American Denis Kudla 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (7/4).

Del Potro was delighted to get through in three sets, and not spend too long in the steamy sunshine.

Organizers again implemented an extreme heat policy that allowed both men and women a 10-minute heat break in matches extended beyond straight sets.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, the Greek 20-year-old who came in with high expectations after beating four top 10 players en route to the Toronto Masters final, said the heat took a mental as well as physical toll.

“You don’t have fresh air to breathe — you breathe this heat that’s coming, the moisture that’s in the air. So you feel like you are empty,” said the 15th-seed, who fell 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 to Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Medvedev, who won his second ATP title of the season at Winston-Salem last week, booked a third-round meeting with 20th-seeded Croatian Borna Coric, a 7-6 (7/4), 6-2, 6-3 winner over Spain’s Roberto Carballes Baena.

Fifth-seeded South African Kevin Anderson, runner-up to Nadal last year and a runner-up to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon, made quick work of France’s Jeremy Chardy, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.

Anderson next faces rising Canadian star Denis Shapovalov, who labored to a 6-4, 4-6, 5-7, 7-6 (7/2), 6-4 victory over Italian Andreas Seppi.

AFP