Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Australia's Alex De Minaur returns the ball to Spain's Rafael Nadal during the ATP Barcelona Open "Conde de Godo" tennis tournament singles match at the Real Club de Tenis in Barcelona on April 17, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 18 April 2024
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Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

  • Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal
  • Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory

BARCELONA, Spain: Rafael Nadal’s first tournament since January lasted only two matches with the Spaniard losing 7-5, 6-1 to Alex de Minaur at the clay-court Barcelona Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, back from an injury layoff, looked like his old self for brief moments in the second-round match but couldn’t keep up with the 11th-ranked De Minaur.

“The moment I lost the first set, the match was over,” Nadal said. “I can’t play a three-hour match right now. This wasn’t the place for me to give everything I have. We’ll see what happens in Paris. I want to be competitive there, that’s where I have to give it all.”

Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month. He said he will try to play at the Madrid Open next week but didn’t fully commit.

“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Nadal said. “The important thing here was to play and I played. To be on the court is great news.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably defeated 62nd-ranked Flavio Cobolli in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday in what was his first competitive match in more than three months.

Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal.

It was only his fifth defeat at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won a record 12 times.

“It’s natural that this was probably my last match here,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was unimaginable to win it 12 times.”

Nadal is returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. Before this week, he had played only three competitive matches this year — all in Brisbane in January — before skipping the Australian Open.

Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo, saying he his body wasn’t ready.

The 37-year old Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

BAUTISTA AGUT’S 400TH

Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is the 13th active player with at least 400 ATP Tour wins.

“To me it’s just a number,” Bautista Agut said. “The important thing is that I’ve done great work over these years, that I’ve had a very consistent career, a career that I can feel proud of.”

OTHER RESULTS

Third-seeded Casper Ruud advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alexandre Muller, while sixth-seeded Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 6-4 to Dusan Lajovic.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Jarry lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and 14th-seeded Jordan Thompson got past Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.


French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

Updated 23 May 2024
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French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

  • Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries

PARIS: Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and the 14-time champion was set up for a challenging first-round matchup against Alexander Zverev from Thursday’s draw.
Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.
After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But he has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.
Unseeded.
His matchup against the No. 4-ranked Zverev is a rematch of their 2022 semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.
The French Open begins on Sunday.


Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

Updated 22 May 2024
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Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

  • The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court

GENEVA: Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday with a much-needed win as he gears up for his French Open title defense, progressing to the Geneva quarter-finals.
The world number one downed Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3 in the second round at the Parc des Eaux-Vives grounds.
Djokovic took a wild card to play in Geneva in a bid to rescue an alarming dip in form ahead of next week’s French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court following his win.
He lifted the cake and showed it off to the crowd, having a nibble before offering some to the ball boys and girls.


Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Updated 22 May 2024
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Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

  • The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005
  • As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world No. 1, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing history of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Whether or not the 2024 French Open becomes No. 13 will soon become apparent as the draw for the event takes place on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent,” explained Nadal after a second round exit in Rome last week.

“And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic.

He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name.

“We have to enjoy the time he has left on court, evaluate it, and be aware that it’s very unlikely that something like that will happen again,” said coach Carlos Moya during the recent Madrid Open.

“Personally, I’m never on court when he enters or leaves, but I am this year because I like seeing the love he gets from the people when he steps on court.

“He’s one of the great stars of this sport, he’s about to retire, and it’s really amazing to see that.”

Nadal isn’t the only A-list talent under a Paris cloud ahead of the tournament start on Sunday.

Defending champion and record 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic, whose three titles in Paris put him alongside Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, is enduring a title dry spell unseen since 2018.

Back then, he also reached May without a trophy before crashing to a shock last-16 defeat at the French Open to unheralded Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

This season, Djokovic has lost his Australian Open title and has yet to make a final on tour.

Adding injury to insult, he was hit on the head by a falling water bottle in Rome, a freak accident which he claimed caused nausea and dizziness.

In an attempt to gather a degree of clay-court confidence ahead of the French Open, Djokovic, who turns 37 on Wednesday, grabbed a late wild card in the ongoing Geneva tournament.

Between them, Nadal and Djokovic have carved up the last eight French Open titles while 2009 was the last time a final at Roland Garros did not feature at least one of them.

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner, the man who succeeded Djokovic as Australian Open champion, has been laid low by a hip injury which caused him to skip the Rome Open.

The 22-year-old Italian reached the quarterfinals of the French Open on his debut in 2020 where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets.

Sinner has an extra incentive to progress deep in Paris as he could depose Djokovic as world No. 1.

Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, also skipped Rome to nurse an arm injury.

The world No. 3 took the first set off Djokovic in their semifinal last year before body cramps saw his slip to defeat.

The Spanish crowd-pleaser admitted that his sudden and dramatic diminished physical state was caused by the fear of facing Djokovic.


Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Updated 22 May 2024
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Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

  • The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007
  • Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome

PARIS: Iga Swiatek admits she is the favorite and “confident” ahead of her bid to become only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era.

The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome.

The only female player in history to complete a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble in the same season is Serena Williams.

But Swiatek is not daunted by what she could achieve.

“I’m No. 1 so I’m the favorite everywhere if you look at rankings,” she told reporters after swatting aside second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the Rome Open final last weekend.

“But rankings don’t play, so... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis. But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused.”

The 22-year-old Pole has plenty of years ahead of her to chase records but is wasting little time — her four WTA 1000 titles this season have taken her career total to 10.

That is already only 13 short of Serena Williams’ all-time record.

With four Grand Slam titles, Swiatek has not struggled to translate that form to the major tournaments in the past, but insists it is tougher to lift the sport’s biggest trophies.

“Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court,” she added.

“I love to come to Paris again and be there. It’s a great place for me to be. I really enjoy my time there anyway. These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Swiatek is aiming to join Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Henin in lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen four times in the Open era.

The biggest obstacle standing in her way is Sabalenka.

The Belarusian missed three match points before losing to Swiatek in a thrilling Madrid final and will be hoping to get another crack at her rival after a one-sided loss in Rome.

Sabalenka, the two-time reigning Australian Open champion, has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.

She is also the only woman to beat Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.

Sabalenka has an 8-3 losing record against Swiatek, but insisted after Rome that she wanted to face her again in Paris.

“Even though I lost these two finals, I mean, I never focus on the past,” she said.

“No matter how many times I lose to the player, I know anyway if I’ll be there, if I’ll be fighting, I’ll be focusing on myself, I know that I can get that win.

“I mean, I’m going there with the confidence that I can do well there.”

Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semis.

“I’m definitely not the favorite probably there,” she said.

“But at the same time I do feel that I can actually go for it.

“It’s 50/50, you know? But I prefer to be underdog. I really hope I’m going to make it to the final and I really hope I’ll be able to get that win, if it’s Iga or not.”

Elena Rybakina, the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this year, was being touted as part of a new ‘big three’ 12 months ago.

But the Kazakh has failed to make the last four at a Slam since losing the 2023 Australian Open final to Sabalenka and has been passed in the rankings by US Open champion Coco Gauff.

American Gauff, playing in a major for the first time since turning 20, will be hoping to go one better than when she lost the 2022 French Open showpiece to Swiatek.


PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis

Updated 20 May 2024
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PIF, WTA sign multiyear partnership to speed up global growth of women’s tennis

  • PIF will become first naming partner of the WTA rankings
  • PIF to continue to be a catalyst for growth of women’s sport

NEW YORK: The Public Investment Fund and the Women’s Tennis Association on Monday signed a multiyear partnership to support the growth of women’s professional tennis and inspire more females around the world to take up the sport.
The partnership also aims at enhancing and developing initiatives that support players at all levels.
As a global partner of the WTA, the PIF will become the first naming partner of the organization’s rankings, the highest official rankings for professional women tennis players.
And through the partnership with the WTA, the PIF will continue to be a catalyst for the growth of women’s sport, according to Mohamed Al-Sayyad, the fund’s head of corporate brand.
Al-Sayyad said: “We look forward to working with the WTA to increase participation and inspire the next generation of talent. Underpinned by PIF’s four strategic sponsorship pillars, this partnership aligns with our ambition to elevate the game and bring positive growth to the sport around the world.”
The PIF WTA rankings will track players’ journeys, and the PIF will work with the WTA to celebrate and support players’ progress.
WTA’s CEO Marina Storti said: “We are delighted to welcome PIF as a global partner of the WTA and our first-ever official naming partner of the WTA rankings.
“Together, we look forward to sharing the journey of our talented players across the season, as we continue to grow the sport, creating more fans of tennis and inspiring more young people to take up the game.”
As part of its commitment to inspire youngsters, the PIF will work with the WTA to expand existing initiatives and develop new opportunities for young players, providing a significant boost to the game’s next generation of stars.
The PIF announced its partnership with the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) in February and became the official naming partner of the PIF ATP rankings. The PIF has now become the only global partner across both the WTA and ATP tours.
The new partnership between the WTA and the PIF follows the recent announcement that the season-ending WTA Finals will be hosted in Riyadh for the next three years, starting in 2024.