Federer, Nadal Make History In South Africa

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

 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal attracted what organisers said was a world record crowd for a tennis match when they played an exhibition event in the Cape Town Stadium on Friday.

The organisers said an audited attendance of 51,954 beat the 42,517 who watched Federer play Alexander Zverev of Germany in Mexico City last November.

They also announced that the ‘Match in Africa’ raised $3.5-million for the Roger Federer Foundation, which supports educational and athletic programmes for children in Africa.

READ ALSO: Kenyan Athlete Wins 2020 Lagos Marathon

“To have 51,954 people in attendance at a tennis match, I never thought I’d be a part of something like that,” said Federer. “It’s not something you dream about.

Federer, who was accompanied by his South African mother, Lynette, said his first appearance in South Africa was a special occasion.

“The first time here in Cape Town, in South Africa, means so much more than just tennis,” he said.

Federer won 6-4 3-6 6-3 in a match in which the players had to contend with cool, windy conditions in the stadium that was built for the 2010 football World Cup.

The arena was packed with eager fans who sang, clapped and did the wave throughout the match.

“It’s an amazing crowd, an amazing stadium,” said Nadal, who was making his first appearance in South Africa since playing in the country as a junior.

“It’s an unforgettable evening. We will probably never play again in an atmosphere such as this one,” said Nadal. “I can’t thank enough the people here in Cape Town. They came here and created an unforgettable atmosphere.”

Earlier in the day, Federer and his doubles partner billionaire Bill Gates beat Nadal and South-African born comedian  Trevor Noah in a match  with more flexible rules.

The ceremonial coin toss was performed by World Cup-winning Springbok rugby captain Siya Kolisi, who presented Federer with a Springbok jersey. The coin used was a commemorative 20 Swiss Francs piece minted with Federer’s face. He gave it to Kolisi.

Other high-profile South African sports stars in attendance included former Springbok captains John Smit and Jean de Villiers as well as Olympic swimmer Ryk Neethling.

The match is the sixth edition of the event organised by the Roger Federer Foundation and is the first to take place in Africa.

“There’s so much anticipation that goes into it that the match itself almost gets forgotten,” said Federer before the match.

He said he spent childhood holidays in South Africa.

“The time spent here as a kid was amazing,” Federer said. “You would go on the road and you never come back for some reason because you’ve gotta chase that little tennis ball and you’ve gotta chase your dreams.”

Tens of thousands of fans showed up early and were ecstatic when Nadal and Federer hit practice balls into the stands.

One fan said she brought a wedding ring for Federer to propose to her. “I want to marry Roger,” she shouted.

Earlier in the afternoon, Federer and Nadal played tennis with children from townships in Hout Bay.

The children are part of an afterschool activity program with Zip Zap Circus which develops gross and fine motor skills.

 

AFP

Australian Open: Nadal Stunned By Thiem In Epic Quarter Final Clash

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 / AF

 

Austria’s Dominic Thiem stunned Rafael Nadal in an “epic” four-setter Wednesday to send the world number one tumbling out of the Australian Open and set up a semi-final against Alexander Zverev.

The fifth seed, beaten by Nadal in the last two French Open finals, battled past the Spaniard 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 7-6 (8/6) to deny him a crack at a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title.

He will now meet German seventh seed Zverev, who shattered the dreams of veteran Stan Wawrinka 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 to book his maiden place in a Grand Slam last four.

Awaiting the winner of that clash will be either seven-time champion Novak Djokovic or six-time winner Roger Federer, who meet in the other semi-final.

 

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (L) congratulates Austria’s Dominic Thiem on his victory in their men’s singles quarter-final match on day ten of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 30, 2020. DAVID GRAY / AFP

 

“All the match was on a very good level, I think we are both in great form,” said Thiem, only the second Austrian to make the Melbourne semis after Thomas Muster — the man he sacked this week as an advisor.

“Today I had the feeling I was lucky in the right situation… it is necessary because he is one of the greatest of all time. You need some luck to beat him.”

Thiem added that he was ecstatic at beating “a great champion” and “really proud how I stayed in the match”, which he called “an epic”.

Top seed Nadal had a 9-4 record over Thiem and had beaten him in all their five previous Slam meetings.

But the last time they played on hardcourts — at the 2018 US Open quarter-finals — it was a five-set marathon.

And the signs pointed that way again, with the opening set on serve to 2-2 before Thiem, gunning for a first Grand Slam title, worked a breakpoint but couldn’t convert.

Both baseline-huggers, it became a slugfest before Nadal managed to open some doors on the Thiem serve in game eight and he broke with a perfect lob from the back of the court.

But Thiem came roaring back, breaking back with a ripping crosscourt return. He saved a set point to take it to a tie-breaker where he rocked Nadal to seal a one-set lead.

– Famous victory –

Nadal, dripping in sweat on a steamy Melbourne night, attacked in the second set and Thiem lost his serve to love to go 3-2 behind.

But the Spaniard, the 2009 champion, became riled when issued with a warning for taking too long to serve and it rattled him, sending down a double fault as Thiem squared the set at 4-4.

Nadal saved a set point and it went to another tie-break where Thiem prevailed at the crunch thanks to a lucky net cord.

The third set was similarly tight, with no breaks until Nadal teased some errors from Thiem as he served to stay in the set, pumping his fists in celebration.

But when Nadal shanked a forehand to be broken in the third game of set four, the momentum swung back to the Austrian. He lost his nerve serving for the match at 5-4 before finally getting over the line in a tie-break for a famous victory.

“Of course, I am sad. I lost an opportunity to be in the semi-finals of another Grand Slam. But I lost against a great opponent. And he deserved it, too,” said Nadal.

Thiem now faces Zverev, who bounced back after being demolished in the first set by 2014 champion Wawrinka to take control and run out a comfortable winner.

Long touted as one of the next generation capable of breaking through to end the Grand Slam dominance of Nadal, Federer, and Djokovic, Zverev credited a more relaxed approach for his success in Melbourne.

“I’m doing many more things outside the court,” he said, adding that after a poor performance at the recent ATP Cup he did not have high expectations.

“Maybe this is a stepping stone. Maybe this is how it should happen.”

AFP

Australian Open: Nadal’s Bitter Opponent Talks About ‘Respect’ Ahead Of Match

Australia's Nick Kyrgios (L) prepares to shake hands with Russia's Karen Khachanov after victory during their men's singles match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 25, 2020. Greg Wood / AFP
Australia’s Nick Kyrgios (L) prepares to shake hands with Russia’s Karen Khachanov after victory during their men’s singles match on day six of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 25, 2020.
Greg Wood / AFP

 

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios said he had “respect” for Rafael Nadal despite their personal differences after he set up a last-16 match with the top seed at the Australian Open on Saturday.

Kyrgios played down disagreements with the world number one — against whom he has a 2-1 record on hard courts — after some barbed exchanges between the two.

“Regardless, if we don’t like each other or whatever, I think there’s a layer of respect,” Kyrgios said after his five-set thriller with Russia’s Karen Khachanov.

“He’s one of the greatest of all time. I also read that he thinks I’m good for the sport.

“There’s a layer of respect that we both have for each other. Doesn’t necessarily mean we like each other, but we’re going to go out there and give contrasting styles and personalities.”

Kyrgios beat Khachanov 6-2, 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (6/8), 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (10/8) over 4hr 26min — the longest match of his career — to set up a last-16 meeting with the 19-time Grand Slam winner.

Last year Kyrgios won a bad-tempered match with Nadal in Mexico, hitting underarm serves and complaining about his slow play — prompting the Spaniard to complain that he “lacks respect”.

The 24-year-old later told an interviewer that Nadal was “super salty”, and he mimicked his signature serving routine when warned for slow play during his round-two win over Gilles Simon.

However, Kyrgios, who lost to Nadal in four sets in round two last year at Wimbledon, said both players were aware of each other’s qualities.

“At the end of the day, we’re two different tennis players. We go about it completely different,” he said.

“After Wimbledon, I lost, I got beaten by the better player. I shook his hand, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘Too good’.”

Nadal earlier gave a cool response when asked whether he liked Kyrgios.

“When he does stuff that in my opinion is not good, I don’t like,” said the Spaniard.

“When he plays good tennis and he shows passion for this game, he is a positive player for our tour.

“When he’s ready to play his best tennis and play with passion, is one of these guys. When he’s doing the other stuff, of course I don’t like.”

 

AFP

Australian Open: Nadal, Kyrgios Progress Despite Weather Challenge

 

Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios reached the Australian Open third round on Thursday after the weather-disrupted tournament faced a new challenge: dirty rain which left courts muddy and unplayable.

After a day of clean-up operations and delays, Australia’s Kyrgios fought his way past Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets and Wimbledon champion Simona Halep stamped her class with a win over Britain’s Harriet Dart.

Nadal, a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 winner over Argentina’s Federico Delbonis, miscued a shot that hit a ballgirl in the head, but he melted hearts when he apologised and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

“I was so scared for her, honestly,” the 19-time Grand Slam winner said. “The ball was quick and straight on the head. She’s a very brave girl.”

Kyrgios, increasingly popular with home fans after his fundraising efforts for Australia’s bushfire crisis, was cruising at two sets up when he dropped the third set and with it, his composure.

But just when it looked like he would suffer one of his trademark implosions, he rallied for a 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 victory.

“I definitely lost my way a little bit… but I decided to refocus,” Kyrgios said of his mini-meltdown in the third set. “I could have gone to a very dark place in the fourth set but I put it away.”

Kyrgios and Nadal stay on course for a fourth-round clash and the next instalment in their grudge match after the Aussie hit back at criticism from the “super salty” Spaniard last year.

Their victories followed a day of upheaval caused by the dirty rain, the latest weather problem at a tournament which has contended with bushfire smoke, heavy downpours and strong wind.

Rain mixed with a dust storm coated the Melbourne Park facilities in a fine layer of mud which took hours to clean and made many outside courts temporarily unusable.

 ‘I was freaking out’ 

As action resumed Alexander Zverev, another man who has a running feud with Kyrgios, showed signs of a return to form as he downed Egor Gerasimov 7-6 (7/5), 6-4, 7-5.

The German seventh seed has been practising up to seven hours a day after a winless ATP Cup and the hard work paid off as he safely reached the third round.

“Definitely much better than the ATP Cup. Now in the third round, I’m very happy about that,” said the 22-year-old, who beat Italy’s Marco Cecchinato in round one.

However, fifth seed Dominic Thiem had a scare as he was taken to five sets by Australia’s 140th-ranked Alex Bolt before recovering his composure to win 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2.

“It was all of a sudden a really tight third set that shouldn’t happen. That’s why I was freaking out inside and also outside today,” said the two-time French Open finalist.

A nosebleed was one of Daniil Medvedev’s biggest challenges in his win over Spanish qualifier Pedro Martinez, while Gael Monfils, who injured his racquet hand playing computer games before the tournament, downed Ivo Karlovic.

In the women’s draw, Halep beat Dart 6-2, 6-4, while Belinda Bencic knocked out former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko — she was playing despite the sudden death of her father this month.

Two-time Major winner Garbine Muguruza, who scaled Mount Kilimanjaro in the off-season as she searches for a return to form, dispatched home hope Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

AFP

Beating Federer’s 20 Slams Record Not Important, Says Nadal

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates victory against Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their men’s singles match on day two of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 21, 2020.
John DONEGAN / AFP

 

World number one Rafael Nadal insisted Tuesday that matching or beating Roger Federer’s record 20 Grand Slam titles is not important and he was “super happy” with his tennis career regardless.

The Spaniard launched his campaign to equal the Swiss great’s mark by dropping just five games in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-0 annihilation of Bolivian Hugo Dellien in the Australian Open first round.

The Mallorcan, the first man to be world number one in three different decades, can not only match his great rival’s achievement but also become the first man in the Open era to win all four Majors at least twice if he lifts the trophy again at Melbourne Park.

It is a big ask for the 33-year-old Nadal, who has only won the title once before in Australia, against a tearful Federer in 2009, with four runner-up finishes to his name.

“I don’t care about 20 or 15 or 16. I just care about trying to keep going, keep enjoying my tennis career,” said Nadal.

“It’s not like 20 is the number that I need to reach. If I reach 20, fantastic. If I reach 21, better. If I reach 19, super happy about all the things that I did in my tennis career.

“I am very satisfied with my tennis career because I give it all most of the time,” he added. “That’s the only thing that matters.”

The Australian Open is the only Major Nadal has failed to win more than once, having claimed 12 titles at Roland Garros, four at the US Open and two at Wimbledon.

He has been a finalist in Melbourne four times since winning but has struggled to get over the line, something that baffles him.

“I have been a break up twice in the fifth set and I lost. Another time I have been injured in a final, of course, against a great opponent,” he said on why he had not been able to convert in Australia.

Main goal 

Nadal, in a pink sleeveless shirt and matching shoes, was in total charge against the world number 73 Dellien, storming to a 5-0 lead in the opening set before the Bolivian held serve, then against the odds broke, before the Spaniard served out the set.

Underdog Dellien was broken in the sixth game of the second set but hit back again to break Nadal for the second time in the match before the top seed again rallied to restore control with some sizzling forehands down the line.

Nadal raced 3-0 up in the third set as his physicality and power shone through.

The Spaniard next plays either Argentine Federico Delbonis or Portugal’s Joao Sousa and said he never looked further ahead than the next match.

“I think about Sousa or Delbonis, that’s all. I think about my practice tomorrow, try to follow up the level of tennis that I played in the third set,” he said.

“That should be my main goal. I need to play at my highest level if I want to keep going in the tournament.

“If I am able to reach my highest level, that’s the thing that I have to worry about.

“If I am able to play at my highest level, normally I am able to produce some good chances.

“If not, impossible.”

AFP

‘Passion, Love’ – Rafael Nadal Shares Success Tips

Spain's Rafael Nadal speaks at a press conference ahead of the Australia Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 18, 2020. Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP
Spain’s Rafael Nadal speaks at a press conference ahead of the Australia Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 18, 2020.
Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal said passion and positivity had helped him reach an unprecedented third decade ranked world number one, after defying the ravages of injury and the critics who said his all-action game was too tough on his body.

Despite a steady stream of foot, knee, back, arm, hand and wrist injury setbacks, the 33-year-old has returned time and again to become the only player to top the rankings in three different decades.

“I can’t say I have been lucky with injuries, because I have not,” the Spaniard said on Saturday, when asked about his longevity in the game.

“But there is no secret, no? There is only about passion, about love for the game, and about being able to stay positive in the tough moments.”

Nadal’s physical, uncompromising approach is often contrasted with his great rival Roger Federer, who appears more effortless on court and — after far fewer injuries — is still going strong at 38.

But the fighting qualities that have taken Nadal to 19 Grand Slam titles on court have often been evident off it, as he was repeatedly able to recover from injury and return to the top.

“It’s true that I went through some tough situations during all my career. But I was able to always, with probably the positive attitude and with the right people around — they were the key — I was able to find a way to keep going, no?” he said.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine because for my style of game, as a lot of people said, my career should be little bit shorter. But here we are. Happy for that.

“Even for me is a big surprise to be where I am at my age.”

 

AFP

Federer, Nadal Donate $172,000 For Australian Fire Victims

Roger Federer of Switzerland (L) and Nick Kyrgios of Australia pose with firefighter Alistair Mason (C) as they and other top players play in the Rally for Relief charity tennis match in support of the victims of the Australian bushfires, in Melbourne of January 15, 2020, ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament. WILLIAM WEST / AFP

 

Tennis superstars Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal jointly donated Aus$250,000 (US$172,000) for Australian bushfire relief at a charity fundraiser in smoggy Melbourne on Wednesday.

The two tennis legends, with 39 Grand Slam singles titles between them, were at the Rod Laver Arena in a bid to swell the vast sums already donated to help victims of the devastating disaster.

They were joined by a who’s who of the tennis world, including Serena Williams, Caroline Wozniacki, Novak Djokovic, Naomi Osaka, Petra Kvitova, Dominic Thiem, Coco Gauff, Nick Kyrgios, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev.

“Twenty years this has been my home and I’ve had so many great matches on this court and in this country,” said Williams, whose young daughter Alexis Olympia was thrilled to meet some firefighters this week.

“And that’s we’re all here tonight to support and help out.”

Tennis Australia said it expected the “Rally for Relief” to raise “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to add to the more than Aus$2.8 million (US$1.9 million) already stumped up by the global tennis community.

That has included personal pledges and Aus$100 for each ace hit during the Australian tennis swing. Some of the big names also donated merchandise for an online auction Wednesday.

Williams led a team in Fast4 doubles, a shortened version of the game, boosting Thiem and Kvitova, along with Nadal and Djokovic playing together on the same side of the net.

They met Wozniacki’s side that featured Gauff, Osaka, Zverev and Tsitsipas.

But the evening’s star turn saw Federer play a set against Australian bad boy Kyrgios, who has been driving force behind the fundraising effort.

“It’s emotional stuff,” said Kyrgios. “I just want to have a little fun out here tonight and hopefully we can overcome this.”

The bushfires, unprecedented in their duration and intensity, have claimed 28 lives, destroyed almost 2,000 homes and razed vast tracts of land.

Toxic haze from the blazes has disrupted the build-up to next week’s Australian Open, with qualifying delayed over the past two days and some players taken ill.

A cool change bringing rain swept through on Wednesday afternoon, raising expectations of clearer air for Thursday.

Tennis chiefs have insisted any delays to the Grand Slam’s scheduled start on Monday were unlikely given Melbourne Park has three roofed stadiums and eight other indoor courts which could be used in an emergency.

The roof of the Rod Laver Arena was closed for the charity evening.

AFP

Djokovic Sweeps Past Nadal In ATP Cup Final

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts after winning against Rafael Nadal of Spain in their men’s singles match in the final of the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Sydney on January 12, 2020. AFP

 

Novak Djokovic swept past long-time rival Rafael Nadal in a battling display at the ATP Cup final Sunday to lay down a marker ahead of the Australian Open.

The Serbian world number two blasted the top-ranked Spaniard off court 6-2 in the first set before a much tighter 7-6 (7/4) second set.

It left the final of the inaugural team event finely poised at 1-1 after Spain’s reliable Roberto Bautista Agut caned Dusan Lajovic 7-5, 6-1.

Nadal and Djokovic were both expected back on court to play the decisive doubles rubber that will decide which country wins the 24-nation tournament.

“Every time I get to play Rafa we get to play a lot of exciting points. There were some incredible exchanges today,” said Djokovic.

“I started off the match perfectly, everything worked. I’m just really glad I held my nerve in the end.”

Djokovic, warming up for his bid to win an eighth Australian Open crown this month, went into the clash at Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena leading their head-to-heads 28-26.

But the statistics did not tell the full story.

The Serb had won nine of their past 12 contests and been dominant over the years on hard courts — including a comfortable win against Nadal in the Australian Open final last year.

He showed his intent immediately, breaking Nadal in the opening game when the Spaniard netted a backhand, and there was no let-up.

His driving groundstrokes and deft touches proved too much with Nadal’s serve constantly under siege as Djokovic delivered a booming ace to wrap up the set.

Nadal lifted to another level in the second set and it was an intense affair, with Djokovic saving five break points in a crucial sixth game.

It went to a tiebreaker where a crunching backhand down the line from the Serb gave him the break he needed to complete the victory.

AFP

Nadal’s Spain To Meet Djokovic’s Serbia In ATP Cup Final

A photo combination of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal . AFP

 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will face each other in the final of the inaugural ATP Cup after winning epic three-set matches Saturday to steer Spain and Serbia into the decider.

World number one Nadal ground down pumped-up Australian Alex de Minaur to guide the Davis Cup champions through their semi-final while Djokovic battled past Russia’s Daniil Medvedev.

Under the format of the innovative team event in Sydney, the top-ranked singles players from each country play each other, ensuring the two legends clash for the 55th time since their first showdown in 2006.

READ ALSO: US Open Champion Andreescu Withdraws From Australian Open

World number two Djokovic leads the head-to-head 28-26, including beating his arch-rival in the Australian Open final last year.

Nadal outlasted De Minaur 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 after unflappable teammate Roberto Bautista Agut tamed Nick Kyrgios 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic had an equally tough time against impressive fifth-ranked Medvedev, coming through a top-draw contest 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 on the back of Dusan Lajovic beating Karen Khachanov 7-5, 7-6 (7/1).

“Alex was playing at a very high level and for me, my energy was a little bit lower than usual. But it has been a very emotional evening and a pleasure playing here,” said Nadal.

“We know it’s going to be a super tough final (against Serbia),” he added. “Novak likes a lot to play here, he’s had a lot of great results. So let’s see. We have a good team too.”

De Minaur had a furious start, breaking Nadal in the opening game of the match and then keeping the pressure on, restricting the Spaniard’s trademark forehand to take the first set in 46 minutes.

Full of energy, his serve was on fire and he was winning the baseline rallies, but Nadal weathered the onslaught and finally won a breakpoint, converting to take the second set.

De Minaur was deflated and the fight went out of him as the 19-time Grand Slam showed him who was boss, racing through the deciding set.

Unassuming world number 10 Bautista Agut was in control and all over the groundstrokes of temperamental Kyrgios, who looked lost as he crashed 6-1 in the first set.

The Australian regained some lustre in the second set. But he was broken in the fifth game, mangling his racquet in frustration, and despite saving two match points with booming aces was outplayed.

“My game plan was to put him under pressure to play every point, to make him work. That’s what I tried and it went well,” said Bautista Agut.

Exceptional

Sixteen-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic, who is targeting an eighth Australian Open title this month, had looked on track for a comfortable win against Medvedev after sailing through the opening set and breaking in the first game of the second.

But the dogged Russian, who won their last two encounters, roared back.

He broke in the next game and then again for 3-1, with Djokovic smashing his racquet as Medvedev took the set to level the match.

The third set of long, high-quality rallies went with serve until Djokovic got the crucial edge in the fifth game, converting a volley to go 3-2 in front and Medvedev had no answer.

“It was an exceptional match. Lots of rallies and very exhausting. Daniil Medvedev is one of the best players in the world and he showed today why,” said Djokovic.

“He’s difficult to break from the baseline, he’s tall and has a good serve. This was the most difficult challenge I have had so far this year.”

Lajovic, who won his first ATP title last year at Umag, took a 2-0 record into his showdown with world number 17 Khachanov and produced a performance that belied his ranking of 34, displaying composure and a fine array of shots.

“It was definitely one of the toughest matches for me in my career, concerning the situation, the tension and the importance of the moment,” he said. “But the crowd carried me.”

AFP

Nadal On Fire As Spain Crush Uruguay At ATP Cup

Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a return against Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay during their men’s singles match at the ATP Cup tennis tournament in Perth on January 6, 2020.
TONY ASHBY / AFP

 

World number one Rafael Nadal sharpened his serve and cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Pablo Cuevas at the ATP Cup on Monday in a flawless display as he fine-tunes for the Australian Open.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion hit 26 winners and fired down seven aces against the world number 45 to clinch Spain’s victory over Uruguay in Perth after Roberto Bautista Agut beat Franco Roncadelli 6-1, 6-2.

Spain plays Japan on Wednesday with the winner qualifying for the knockout phase in Sydney, while the loser will have to rely on other results.

Underdog Cuevas had beaten Nadal in Rio four years ago, a feat particularly impressive for having been played on the Spaniard’s preferred clay surface.

But he was never in the contest Monday.

“I played better than the other day and it’s a very positive victory against an opponent I have a lot of respect for,” said Nadal, while praising the packed stadium as the reason why he keeps going.

“Because of these very special feelings when you are on court in front of a great crowd supporting, that’s one of the reasons why you wake up every morning and go on the practice court with the right passion and the clear goal to improve something.”

Nadal started with an ace and looked sharp but Cuevas, who suffered a tame defeat against Yoshihito Nishioka in his opener, matched with clean striking from the baseline.

Nadal gained control by targeting Cuevas’ inconsistent serve and he broke four times in the 73-minute match.

The 33-year-old notably served strongly and faced just one breakpoint for the match after struggling in his season opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili.

World number 10 Bautista Agut has had a soft draw to start the season against ATP tour debutants Roncadelli and Aleksandre Metreveli, who he crushed 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday.

Unranked Roncadelli replaced injured Martin Cuevas, the younger brother of Pablo.

The left-hander unleashed several menacing slices and hit the scoreboard in the third game to energise the near-capacity crowd, before Bautista Agut put the foot down and he finished with 17 winners in the 57-minute match.

“It isn’t easy playing a match like this, but I’m happy for him to have this experience,” Bautista Agut said.

Nishioka notches second upset

In the earlier Group B tie, Nishioka notched his second upset to start the season after downing world number 26 Basilashvili in straight sets, as injury-hit Japan continued to surprise.

The world number 72 won 6-2, 6-3 to clinch the tie for unbeaten Japan after Go Soeda prevailed over Georgia’s Aleksandre Metreveli in three sets.

Japan, who whitewashed Uruguay on Saturday, are unbeaten despite the withdrawal of injured star Kei Nishikori and Yasutaka Uchiyama, their third best player, before the tournament.

They will attempt to continue their gutsy run against Spain, where Nishioka faces the daunting task of playing Nadal.

“I believe I can beat him,” Nishioka said. “I change my game plan against each opponent and I have a plan (against Nadal). If it works, maybe I have a chance.”

Winless teams Uruguay and Georgia are out of contention.

Nadal, Djokovic Off To Winning Starts At ATP Cup

 

 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic kickstarted their build-up to the Australian Open with straight-sets wins at the ATP Cup Saturday, but world number four Dominic Thiem slumped to defeat.

Top-ranked Nadal had little trouble with Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, racing to a 6-3, 7-5 victory, while long-time rival Djokovic was given more of a test by South Africa’s Kevin Anderson before overcoming him 7-6 (7/5), 7-6 (8/6).

Their wins ensured Spain and Serbia clinched their ties at the inaugural 24-nation team event, where the countries are split into six groups across Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

The top eight from the round-robin go onto the knockout phase in Sydney before one is eventually crowned the winner.

France, Argentina, Croatia and Japan also began their tournament in style, winning their ties to join day one victors Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Norway, Russia and Australia.

“I’m super, super happy to be here in Perth for first time in my life. It’s an amazing arena and a great crowd,” said Nadal.

“It was tough first match of the season, not an easy start. But I think I played a great game.”

Earlier, his teammate Roberto Bautista Agut crushed a hapless Aleksandre Metreveli 6-0, 6-0.

Serbian superstar Djokovic needed to produce some of his best tennis to see off the big-serving Anderson, admitting it was a testing encounter.

“What a way to start the year,” he said. “He was on fire tonight — I think the quality of tennis was quite high. “I was very pleased with the way I kind of weathered the storm.”

His teammate Dusan Lajovic outlasted Lloyd Harris 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

Confidence

Austria’s Thiem forecast this week that 2020 would be the year that the vice-like hold of Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer on Grand Slam titles would come to an end.

He is tipped as one of those who could make the breakthrough, along with Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas. But all three have been beaten in their opening ATP Cup clashes.

Thiem, who won five titles last year, had six break points in the third set against Croatia’s Borna Coric, but failed to convert any of them.

“It’s really nice to beat him because at the end of last season I was not playing well and this will give me a lot of confidence,” said Coric, ranked 28 and who suffered six losses in a row in late 2019.

Fellow Croat Marin Cilic, a finalist at the 2018 Australian Open, used his experience to down Austria’s Dennis Novak 6-7 (7/4), 6-4, 6-4, and ensure Croatia won the tie in Sydney.

The most dominant win of the day came courtesy of Japan, who are without the injured Kei Nishikori but crushed Uruguay 3-0 in Perth, dropping just 15 games across their two singles and one doubles rubbers.

Yoshihito Nishioka routed higher-ranked Pablo Cuevas 6-0, 6-1 and veteran Go Soeda thrashed Martin Cuevas, Pablo’s younger brother, 6-1, 6-3 before a tighter doubles encounter.

French duo Gael Monfils and Benoit Paire, both in the top 25, led their country to a 2-1 Group A win over Chile, while Argentina scraped past Poland by the same score.

But it was a struggle for the South Americans with Polish number one Hubert Hurkacz upsetting world number 14 Diego Schwartzman in three sets.

Guido Pella won the other singles before Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni teamed to down Hurkacz and two-time Grand Slam winner Lukasz Kubot in the deciding doubles.

Some US$15 million in prize money is at stake in the tournament, with up to 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP rankings points up for grabs.

Under the innovative tournament rules, on-court coaching is allowed and team zones are in the corners of the court, rather than on the sidelines by the umpire.

Nadal Inspires Spain To Sixth Davis Cup Triumph

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (2L) celebrates after defeating Canada’s Denis Shapovalov during the final singles tennis match between Canada and Spain at the Davis Cup Madrid Finals 2019 in Madrid on November 24, 2019.
GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal put the finishing touches to his extraordinary year by clinching a sixth Davis Cup title for Spain on Sunday as he beat Denis Shapovalov in Madrid to seal victory over Canada.

Nadal’s 6-3, 7-6 (9/7) win over Shapovalov in front of an adoring home crowd at the Caja Magica gave Spain an unassailable 2-0 lead after Roberto Bautista Agut earlier battled past Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.

The 33-year-old Nadal had been an unstoppable force in Spain’s pulsating semi-final against Britain on Saturday and never looked like letting this chance slip, with King Felipe VI and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos watching on, along with Barcelona defender Gerard Pique.

Pique’s marketing company Kosmos have been at the heart of the raft of changes to this 119-year-old competition but Nadal’s brilliance has been familiar, even if this will surely go down as one of the finest seasons of the 19-time Grand Slam champion’s sparkling career.

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He added a fourth Davis Cup final success — three more than Roger Federer — to the ones he claimed in 2004, 2009 and 2011, while capping a remarkable 12 months that has included winning the French and US Opens, and ending the year as world number one.

The Spanish team will also pocket a cheque worth $2.1 million.

Nadal won eight out of eight rubbers played this week and at times on Saturday, as when he stormed to singles and doubles victories against Britain, it was tempting to view Spain’s progress as something of a solo effort.

Spain Boost Revamped Event

But, unlike Canada, Spain have used all five of their squad, with Bautista Agut, Pablo Carreno Busta and Feliciano Lopez all playing at least one singles match, and Lopez and Marcel Granollers joining forces in the doubles.

There has also been the undeniable advantage of the home crowd and although Spain’s success has delivered a huge boost to the event in its inaugural year, some will argue it might have been fairer to find a new venue in 2020, let alone consider keeping it in Madrid until 2021.

Hosting and mixed attendances are among several issues for Pique and the International Tennis Federation to solve in the coming months but on the court, some gripping ties have ensured the new Davis Cup has got off to an encouraging start.

Bautista Agut’s win over Auger-Aliassime was particularly poignant, given the world number nine was returning after withdrawing from the team on Thursday, following the death of his father Joaquin.

Shapovalov, meanwhile, had ousted Nadal at the Canada Masters when they first met in 2017 but he was no match here for the veteran’s power and sheer force of will.

A blistering forehand on the run set up the decisive break in the first set, which Nadal served out when Shapovalov hit long.

The youngster had a breakpoint early in the second but slapped his return into the net and Nadal held on, surviving a nine-minute game when a Shapovalov retrieval plopped out.

Shapovalov opted for more variety with a brilliant touch volley and then a deft drop-shot making things increasingly uncomfortable for Nadal, who came under pressure when serving to stay in the set both at 5-4 and 6-5.

In the tie-break, Shapovalov led early but missed a short forehand for 4-2. Instead, Nadal won four of the next five to tee up two points for the title. He looked sure to convert the first, on serve, but Shapovalov ripped a forehand pass.

Two big serves saw Shapovalov save the second and then create a set point of his own. But Nadal saved it for 7-7 and a return into the net gave him a third championship point.

When a Shapovalov forehand hit the tape, Nadal fell on his back, his arms outstretched.

A tie-break had proven crucial to Bautista Agut’s victory too as two poor shots from Auger-Aliassime, the second a wild forehand long gave his opponent three chances to take the opening set.

Auger-Aliassime threatened a comeback with a break back in the second set but the resistance was brief as Bautista Agut broke again immediately before serving out as a final backhand drifted wide.

AFP