Tsitsipas ousts Nadal, seals final match against top-ranked Djokovic in Madrid Open

1 / 2
Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas celebrates winning his semifinal match against Spain's Rafael Nadal in Madrid on Saturday. (REUTERS/Susana Vera)
2 / 2
Spain's Rafael Nadal exits after losing his semifinal match against Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas in MAdrid on Saturday.(REUTERS/Susana Vera)
Updated 12 May 2019
0

Tsitsipas ousts Nadal, seals final match against top-ranked Djokovic in Madrid Open

  • Nadal, who was yet to lose a set in Madrid this year, had beaten Tsitsipas all three previous times they played
  • In the women’s final, Kiki Bertens beat two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4

MADRID: For the third straight time this season, Rafael Nadal won’t be fighting for a title on his favorite surface.
Nadal’s slump on clay continued on Saturday at the Madrid Open with a third consecutive semifinal elimination, adding to his worst start to the clay-court swing since 2015.
He lost to ninth-ranked Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will try to win his third title of the year in a final against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who defeated Dominic Thiem 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) and will have a chance to tie Nadal for the most titles in Master 1000 tournaments with 33.
In the women’s final, Kiki Bertens beat two-time Madrid champion Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4.
“It wasn’t my best night,” Nadal said. “I knew what I had to do, it was clear to me, but I just wasn’t capable of doing it. I didn’t have a good feeling to do the things I wanted to do and that’s it. We don’t have to dwell too much on it.”
The second-ranked Spaniard, still seeking his first title of the season, had also failed to make it to the final in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, tournaments he had won the last three consecutive seasons. He lost to Fabio Fognini in Monte Carlo and to Thiem in Barcelona. This is the first time since 2004 that Nadal had arrived in Madrid without a title.
“I’ve won a lot over the years on this surface,” he said.” But this year it hasn’t been the case. I’ve been really close, but I haven’t been able to win.”
Nadal, who was yet to lose a set in Madrid this year, had beaten Tsitsipas all three previous times they played, without losing a set, including in the semifinals of the Australian Open.
The 20-year-old Tsitsipas converted on his fourth match point to close out the victory on the Magic Box center court.
“I’m really happy that I managed to keep my nerves down and fight back. Probably one of the toughest victories I’ve had in my life,” Tsitsipas said. “Adding variety and being unpredictable was the key today.”
The young Greek played aggressively from the start, breaking Nadal’s serve six times. He saved 11 of the 16 break opportunities he conceded.
“I really liked my fighting spirit,” he said. “I went on the court and I was mentally prepared for a fight.”
Tsitsipas will be playing in his fourth final of the season and will have a chance to become the first player to win three titles this year, adding to his triumphs in Estoril and Marseille. He is the tour’s winningest player in 2019 with 27 wins.
“I have to be mentally prepared for a tough match,” said Tsitsipas, who defeated Djokovic in Toronto last year. “He’s in a pretty good state of his tennis, so it won’t be easy.”

Djokovic on top
Djokovic can add to his Australian Open title on Sunday thanks to his confidence-boosting win over an in-form Thiem.
“Dominic is one of the best tennis players in the world at this moment, especially on this surface, so this was a very big win for me,” Djokovic said.
The fifth-seeded Thiem, who beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, had won two straight against Djokovic and was trying to make his third straight Madrid final following losses to Rafael Nadal in 2017 and Alexander Zverev in 2018. The Austrian was also attempting to become the first player to win three titles this season, adding to triumphs in Indian Wells and Barcelona.
“I thought he was the favorite coming into this match because of his win in Barcelona and the way he played winning against Roger yesterday,” said Djokovic, who will be trying to add to his Madrid titles from 2011 and 2016.
“I was still kind of trying to find my best game on clay,” Djokovic said. “These are exactly the matches that I need. I’m very, very pleased with this win.”
Thiem played well in both sets but Djokovic prevailed in both tiebreakers.
“I think that to beat these players, Novak, or Rafa, you need to have this little luck, this momentum going for you, and that was not the case today,” Thiem said. “Some break points for me were a little bit unlucky and some of them I missed, which I usually don’t do.”
BERTENS WINS
Last year’s runner-up Bertens defeated Halep for her second title of the year, adding to her victory in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“I am really proud of this week. I played some good tennis,” said Bertens, who next week will reach a career-high No. 4 ranking.
The seventh-ranked Dutch became the first woman to win the Madrid title without dropping a set. She had victories over three Grand Slam champions in the Spanish capital — Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova. Bertens lost to Kvitova in last year’s final.
Halep, winner in Madrid in 2016 and 2017, lost the chance to take over the No. 1 ranking from Naomi Osaka.


Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

Updated 23 May 2019
0

Interview: Turkish NBA star Enes Kanter on standing up to ‘ruthless’ Erdogan

  • ‘I have an obligation to speak against atrocities,’ basketball star tells Arab News
  • ‘Whatever I am going through in my personal life doesn’t impact my performance on court’

CHICAGO: NBA superstar Enes Kanter says he loves his homeland Turkey as much as he loves professional basketball. 

Yet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers.

Erdogan has arrested Kanter’s father, and bullied his family after accusing the basketball player of being part of the Hizmet movement of exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the president asserts was behind a failed coup attempt in 2016.

Two years ago this week, Erdogan demanded that Kanter be arrested, and fears of violence from the Turkish state have gotten so bad that the FBI installed a panic button to help protect the player.

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression.

“His (Erdogan’s) regime’s and his hostility to me began in 2013 when I first start criticizing (the) government on unjust, unfair and illegal closures of college preparatory centers linked to businesspeople in the Hizmet movement,” Kanter said.

 “This closure pretty much became the first public clash between the Erdogan regime and the Hizmet movement,” he added.

“It was obvious that there was something that Erdogan doesn’t like about the Hizmet movement. Up until the closures of college preparatory centers, no one knew about that,” Kanter said.

“The way Erdogan handled this relationship was brutal, ruthless, unjust and unfair. I can’t stand for any of these, so I stood up against this tyranny and started criticizing. Neither Erdogan stopped his approach nor I, and we’ve kept clashing since then.”

Kanter said he will continue to play professional basketball, and will not be silent about the Turkish government’s repression. (AFP)

Kanter played for the Turkish national team at EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and for the Turkish U18 national team in 2009.

He led Turkey to the bronze medal at the European Championships in France, and was named Best Player and Best Center at the 2009 European Championships by Eurobasket.com. 

Kanter signed with the Utah Jazz in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2015, the New York Knicks in 2017, and the Portland Trail Blazers in February this year.

The Trail Blazers lost the Western Division Playoffs, the first step to the NBA Championships, to California’s Golden State Warriors in the final game on Monday.

Erdogan’s threats have placed enormous pressure on Kanter, but he insists it has not impacted his performance or his commitment to help the people of Turkey.

“I’m a successful professional athlete, and whatever I’m going through in my private life would never impact my performance on court,” he said.

“They’re two different worlds for me … I’ve known nothing else but basketball … since I was 13, so I guess it’s pretty important,” he added.

“I see basketball and my platform as a way to teach the younger generation how to be successful and hopeful for the future,” Kanter said.

“Once you’re a successful professional athlete, younger generations see you as a role model, so … I’m trying to do my best to set my life as a role model to them,” he added.

“I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities. I believe that as a human being I should be standing for human rights, democracy and freedom of speech … Me being a celebrity makes it easier for people to hear, see and experience what I believe.”

I believe I have an obligation as a human being to speak up against any atrocities.

Enes Kanter, Portland Trail Blazers center

On Erdogan, Kanter does not mince words. “He’s a dictator by definition. He silences media, destroys opposition, demonizes his critics … so all these make him a dictator,” Kanter said.

“Turkey deserves a leader who’s open minded, democratic, progressive, intelligent, modest and forward thinking, a leader who embraces everybody in the community regardless of their political choices.”

The harassment from Erdogan has put Kanter’s family at risk too. “I can’t say they’re safe when my dad lost his job and got jailed based on terrorism charges because I’m his son,” Kanter said. “These allegations are baseless and ridiculous, so how could I feel they’re safe?”

He said he respects Gulen and the Hizmet movement, rejecting Erdogan’s claims against them.

“I’m so close to Mr. Fethullah Gulen in terms of his life philosophy and teachings. I admire his way of extracting an individual’s inner potential … in order to be a better person in his or her community,” Kanter said.

“Erdogan should know that he’ll be brought to justice one day and pay for his mistakes. First, he should stop all his unjust, inhumane acts against the people of Turkey. Second, he should start making everybody’s life better in Turkey.”

Before moving to the US in 2009 to attend college in California, Kanter was a star basketball player in Turkey’s premier leagues.

He said despite playing for the NBA in the US, he still sees himself as a champion for Turkey and its people.

“I was Turkey’s best basketball player, and I’m still Turkey’s best basketball player. The only difference is that I’m now representing my country in the US. I left Turkey for a better opportunity in my career, to play in the NBA,” he added.

“I think everyone in society has an obligation to speak out on issues of human rights and democracy, and to stand tall against atrocities, inhumane practices and dictatorships,” Kanter said.

Celebrities like himself “have a bigger opportunity to make a difference and to raise awareness on such issues because of our platforms,” he added.

Erdogan has continuously attacked Kanter, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers. (AFP)