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Nadal Turns Up Heat In Year-End No. 1 Battle With Djokovic

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Nadal Turns Up Heat In Year-End No. 1 Battle With Djokovic

Spaniard earns 1,000 ATP Ranking points with Rome title

Rafael Nadal did not just win his first title of 2019 on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. By defeating top seed Novak Djokovic in the final, the 32-year-old Spaniard also turned up the heat on the Serbian in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.

With the 1,000 ATP Ranking points that Nadal (3,505) earned with his triumph at the Foro Italico, the nine-time Rome champion now trails first-placed Djokovic (4,005) by just 500 points in the ATP Race To London, which serves as a barometer for the chase for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. If Djokovic had emerged victorious, he would have taken a 1,300-point lead in the Race. 

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

On the Parisian terre battue, Nadal could take the Race lead regardless of how Djokovic performs by lifting his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires. Since the Roland Garros winner earns 800 more points than the finalist, Nadal would move into first even if Djokovic is his opponent in the final.

So although Djokovic’s grip on the top spot in the ATP Rankings is in no immediate danger because defending champion Nadal cannot gain any additional points at Roland Garros this year, the battle for year-end No. 1 is red hot. And Djokovic believes his rival is the player to watch at the season’s second Grand Slam championship.

“Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” Djokovic said.

You May Also Like: Nadal Beats Djokovic To Win Ninth Rome Title

Just a week ago, the tennis world was left wondering about Nadal’s status. He had not yet lifted a trophy on the year, his longest early-season trophy drought since 2004, when he captured his maiden tour-level crown at Sopot in August. The World No. 2 arrived in the Italian capital without making a clay-court final in three tries; all semi-final appearances in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

But Nadal now has momentum heading into Roland Garros. It may not become clear until later in the year when Djokovic begins to drop more points off his ATP Ranking, but Nadal is making a push to challenge for the year-end No. 1 spot.

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Gulbis To Face Zverev In Geneva

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Gulbis To Face Zverev In Geneva

Dimitrov qualifies in Switzerland

Latvian Ernests Gulbis set up a second-round meeting with top seed Alexander Zverev on Sunday at the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open. Gulbis beat Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 7-6(7), breaking six times out of 15 chances.

You May Also Like: Tsonga Topples Monte-Carlo Finalist Lajovic In Lyon

In other main-draw action, Cordoba Open champion Juan Ignacio Londero beat Germany’s Mischa Zverev 6-4, 6-4. Grigor Dimitrov, the top seed in qualifying, reached the main draw with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Italian Thomas Fabbiano. Dimitrov, the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion, will face Argentine Federico Delbonis in the first round.

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Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic

Learn how key Nadal’s first shot after the serve was in the Rome final

Hit a serve. Vaporize a forehand.

Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win his ninth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title in Rome on Sunday with his favourite 1-2 punch of hitting a forehand as the first shot after the serve leading the way.

Djokovic was a step slower after two grueling three-set night matches to reach the final and did not have his trademark speed around the court to counter Nadal’s supreme clay court Serve +1 forehand tactic. Djokovic spent most of the match trying to initially attack Nadal’s less potent backhand wing, but Nadal constantly found a way to turn backhands into run-around forehands, especially as the first shot after the serve.

Nadal’s Serve +1 Groundstrokes
• Serve +1 Forehands = 42 (79%)
• Serve +1 Backhands = 11 (21%)

Nadal hit 79 percent (42/53) forehands as the first shot after the serve, instantly putting Djokovic on the ropes with heavy forehands that stretched the Serb out to the edges of the court. Why does Nadal have such a thirst for forehands right after serve? It’s a bigger weapon than his backhand that can inflict more pain and deliver greater disguise with the open-stance footwork that takes away precious tenths of seconds of anticipation for opponents.

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

Nadal’s Serve +1 Win Percentage
• Serve +1 Forehands = Won 71% (30/42)
• Serve +1 Backhands = Won 45% (5/11)

There is not a part of the court that Nadal will not run to in order to turn a backhand into a forehand, especially with this specific strategy to begin the point. Of the 42 Serve +1 forehands Nadal hit in the match, more than half (23/42) of them were returns directed back through the Deuce court to the Spaniard’s backhand that he simply ran around.

Nadal’s Serve +1 forehand strategy delivers so much power at the beginning of the point with the viscous “one-two” combination that he is able to effectively win the point before it matures into a lengthy rally, which normally becomes far more even. Nadal’s lethal Serve +1 forehand combination ended the point in three shots or five shots a combined 63 per cent (19/30) of the time.

Nadal Serve +1 Forehand Points Won: Rally Length
• 3 shots = 10 points
• 5 shots = 9 points
• 7 shots = 4 points
• 9 shots = 2 points
• 11 shots = 2 points
• 13 shots = 2 points
• 17 shots = 1 point

Djokovic, widely regarded as having one of the best backhands of all-time, also did all he could to hit a forehand as the first shot after the serve. The Serb hit 71 per cent (56/79) Serve + 1 forehands for the match, winning just over half (52%) of them.

Double Digit Rally Length
A secondary area of domination for Nadal was in longer rallies of double digits, where 31 lactic-acid inducing points occurred. Nadal won a dominant 71 per cent (23/31) of these points with superior defense out wide in the court with both forehands and backhands, constantly wearing Djokovic down in the longer exchanges.

Djokovic hit 12 drops shots for the match, winning half of them. Five of the six drop shots he won were in rallies of single digits, but of the six he lost, only three were in single digits, while three were in double digit rallies where he looked to stop trading blows with Nadal from the back of the court.

It was an unusual final with an unusual score line between the top two players in the world. Could it be a dress rehearsal for a Sunday final in Paris in three weeks’ time?

Editor’s Note: ATP Brain Game author Craig O’Shannessy is part of Novak Djokovic’s coaching team.

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Tsonga Topples Monte-Carlo Finalist Lajovic In Lyon

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Tsonga Topples Monte-Carlo Finalist Lajovic In Lyon

Tsonga won this event in 2017

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the inaugural Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon two years ago. And the former World No. 5 appears ready to push for a second title at this ATP 250 tournament this year.

Tsonga defeated fifth seed and recent Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters finalist Dusan Lajovic 7-6(4), 6-4 on Sunday to reach the second round, in which he will face Aussie Bernard Tomic or Canadian qualifier Steven Diez.

Tsonga played the big points well against the Serbian, saving three of the four break points he faced while converting two of his three chances to advance after one hour and 45 minutes. The Frenchman now leads Lajovic 3-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, winning eight of the nine sets they have played.

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The 34-year-old has done well to bounce back from a left knee surgery that kept him out for seven months last year. At Montpellier in February, he captured his first ATP Tour title since Antwerp in 2017. At the time, Tsonga was a 210th-ranked wild card. But the 17-time ATP Tour champion is already up to No. 85 in the ATP Rankings.

Tsonga has long enjoyed success in his home country, lifting nine of his trophies in France. He is trying to win multiple titles at a French tournament for the third time (also Marseille, Metz).

Also advancing Sunday was Aussie John Millman, who defeated Spaniard Pablo Andujar 6-1, 6-3 in 67 minutes. Millman will try to make his first quarter-final since Acapulco when he plays fourth seed and #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round.

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Nadal: 'Now Is The Moment To Keep Going'

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Nadal: ‘Now Is The Moment To Keep Going’

Spaniard defeats Djokovic for ninth Rome title

Rafael Nadal has never been one to dwell on the past and he made that clear throughout the week at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“You don’t complain when you play bad, when you have problems, when you have pains. You put [on] the right attitude [and] the right face. You go on court every day with the passion to keep practising,” said Nadal. “That’s something that I did during all of my career…that’s why I was able to always have the chance to be back. Here we are. Important title, important moment. Now is the moment to keep going.”

The Spaniard was reluctant to talk about his losses throughout the European clay swing or why he hadn’t won a title this season, marking the first time since 2004 that he hadn’t prevailed at an ATP Tour event in the first four months of the year. But with his victory over Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final in Rome, Nadal was very willing to revel in the moment.

You May Also Like: Nadal Beats Djokovic To Win Ninth Rome Title

“You were asking for titles. Finally, I have a title,” said Nadal. “For me, the most important thing is feeling myself playing well and healthy, with the energy that I need. If that happens, the experience is that I’m going to fight for titles sooner or later.

“Of course, playing against Novak is always a special thing because it’s part of the history of this sport. It’s always a special feeling. Today was for me and the last couple of times have been for him, but I’m happy for the title more than winning against Novak. I am especially happy because the level was very high.”

Nadal was in top form from the first ball in Rome, dropping 13 games to reach the final and recording four 6-0 sets throughout the week. His 6-0 opening set in Sunday’s final against Djokovic marked the first time either player achieved that score in their 54 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. But while the opening set sent shockwaves through the Foro Italico, the Spaniard was far more pleased with his performance.

“I don’t care about winning 6-0 or 6-4, to be honest,” said Nadal. “I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes, playing so aggressive, changing directions. These kind of days happen, but it’s not usual and probably will not happen again.

“The first set is just an important part of the match. It showed that I was able to play at this level. That’s important for today, important for tomorrow.”

Nadal was characteristically candid about his struggles the European clay swing season, describing his semi-final loss at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters to Fabio Fognini as a “low moment” and first-round win at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell over Leonardo Mayer as “a disaster.” But the Spaniard continued to work tirelessly to find solutions and his efforts paid off in Rome.

Nadal will head to Roland Garros as the favourite to win a 12th crown in Paris. He’s made it clear with his tennis this week that it will take a top player in top form to halt him.

“Every day was a little bit better. Yesterday was probably my best match on clay so far this season before today, because today I played better than yesterday. So that’s it. I’m happy to reach that level in the last tournament before a Grand Slam,” said Nadal. “But, as I said, don’t want to talk about Grand Slams now. I never did in the past. For me, what means a lot is that every tournament is so special for me. [To] have the chance to win again here in Rome is unique.”

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Nadal defeats Djokovic to win Italian Open

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Rafael Nadal claimed his first title of the year by defeating world number one Novak Djokovic 6-0 4-6 6-1 in the Italian Open final in Rome.

The Spaniard raced through the opener in 39 minutes, the first 6-0 between the great rivals in 141 previous sets.

Djokovic battled back, but in the Rome sunshine Nadal sealed his ninth Italian Open title in two hours, 25 minutes.

It was his 81st tournament win and it takes him 34-33 ahead of Djokovic in Masters 1,000 Series titles.

Victory is a boost before the French Open for Nadal, who was beaten by Djokovic in the Australian Open final in January, and had lost at the semi-final stage in his past four tournaments.

Since 2005, Nadal has won at least one of the nine Masters 1,000 events in a season every year except 2015.

  • Konta beaten by Pliskova in Rome final
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Djokovic had saved two match points in his quarter-final win over Juan Martin del Potro that finished at 1.05am local time on Saturday and then had another three-set encounter later that evening against Diego Schwartzman which lasted two hours, 31 minutes.

The 54th meeting between the world’s top two players saw the Serb, perhaps sufferings the effects of those two gruelling matches, initially overwhelmed by Nadal, who was ruthless with his trademark forehand.

To tumultuous acclaim from the capacity crowd, Djokovic forged his first break point opportunity of the match in the fourth game of the second set, but a magnificent, whirling forehand into the corner from Nadal soon eradicated it.

However, the 31-year-old showed his famous powers of resolve, firing some fierce returns as he took the next chance to break, which sealed the set in 59 minutes.

Nadal broke in the opening game of the decider, prompting Djokovic to demolish his racquet in frustration and with the Serb continuing to falter with drop shot attempts, Nadal surged to a 58th clay-court title.

It reduced his career deficit against Djokovic to 28-26, improving his record on clay against him to 17-7.


BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

A ninth title in Rome; a record 34th Masters title; but most significantly a first clay court title of the year for Nadal a week before the start of Roland Garros.

In fact, a first title anywhere since last August. He was irresistible in the first set, in a week in which he has won four sets 6-0 and only dropped serve twice.

But both should go to Paris in excellent heart.

A tiring Djokovic struck a useful psychological blow by dragging Nadal into a decider.

And this after winning the title in Madrid last weekend, and enduring a more gruelling week in Rome which included night shifts on both Friday and Saturday.

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Comeback Colombians: Cabal/Farah Repeat As Rome Champs

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

Comeback Colombians: Cabal/Farah Repeat As Rome Champs

Longtime team wins second clay-court title this swing

Serving at 4-3, 0/40 in the Rome doubles final on Sunday, Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah did what they’ve done all week at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia: Stayed calm and rallied.

The Colombians were down 2/7 in the Match Tie-break during their quarter-final against Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, but saved four match points to reach the semi-finals. On Saturday evening, the longtime Colombian pairing lost the first set 6-2 after only 29 minutes against top seeds Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo, yet recovered to prevail in another Match Tie-break.

On Sunday, however, Cabal/Farah skipped the heroics, beating Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus 6-1, 6-3 in only 59 minutes to repeat as Rome champions and win their second ATP Masters 1000 title.

I kept repeating to myself and to [Cabal], ‘If we come back from this game, we got it. Let’s just focus to come back from this game,’” Farah said. “And I feel like when you win tournaments, things go your way. That’s the way it is. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know how to explain it… When it’s yours, it’s yours.”

Cabal/Farah have now won two of the biggest ATP Tour titles this European clay-court swing, having won the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell last month, and they will head into Roland Garros as one of the favourites to make a deep run.

Read Flashback: Cabal/Farah Win Barcelona Title

We just keep fighting, keep fighting point by point,” Cabal said. “We got the level. We know we can beat anyone and that’s what we focus on.”

Cabal/Farah gained two early breaks en route to a 5-0 lead before serving out the opener. Klaasen/Venus rebounded in the second, but the Colombians won eight of the final nine points. The pairing will receive 1,000 ATP Doubles Rankings points and split €284,860.

Every time you win a 1000 event, it’s something very special. There are no words to describe it. To go back-to-back is even more impressive,” Farah said. “It just builds up our confidence as a team.”

Klaasen/Venus were going for their first Masters 1000 team title. They will receive 600 ATP Doubles Rankings points and split €139,020.

We got off to a somewhat sloppy and slow start and that cost us,” Klaasen said. “We had a few chances, but we obviously aren’t happy with how things went out there, and they were too good for us today.”

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Konta beaten by Pliskova in Italian Open final

  • Posted: May 19, 2019

British number one Johanna Konta’s wait for a first WTA clay-court title continues after she lost to Karolina Pliskova in the Italian Open final.

Czech world number seven Pliskova won 6-3 6-4 in one hour 25 minutes in Rome for her second title of the season.

Konta, 28, beat two top-10 players to reach the final and earned a seeding at the French Open starting on 26 May.

“I’m super pleased with how I’ve been progressing this year and improving in every match,” said Konta.

“This is my second biggest final after Miami. This is a big moment for me. I’m very pleased to be making that progress.”

Konta was the first British woman to reach the Italian Open final since Virginia Wade in 1971, while Pliskova is the first Czech woman to win it since 1978.

Konta did not recover from being broken in her opening service game, and against at 3-3 in the second.

Pliskova required three match points to secure victory and claim her first title since the Brisbane International in January.

‘What a week for Konta’ – analysis

BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

Pliskova was the sharper player and allowed Konta a look at just one break point.

The serve remains the foundation of Pliskova’s game, but she has developed into a very accomplished clay-court player, and will be the second seed at the French Open.

Konta could not reproduce the stunning form she found earlier in the tournament, but what a week – a season-changing week.

She will no longer be at the mercy of the draw come the French Open, and almost certainly Wimbledon too. As a seed, she cannot player anyone else in the world’s top 32 until at least the third round.

Konta’s tour results before April were unspectacular, but she now sits 13th in the annual rankings race. And she has also won six Fed Cup matches for her country, which aren’t taken into consideration.

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