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Zverev Has to Live Up to Potential

Alexander Zverev proved his talent in London at the end of 2018, defeating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to win the ATP Finals. The German now faces the challenge of replicating his form a few miles down the road in SW19 to make his Grand Slam breakthrough at Wimbledon.

Zverev has produced quality results in isolation, although he has not managed to progress further than the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam in his 16 attempts. The 22-year-old has reached the last eight in his last two appearances at the French Open. However, his best performance at Wimbledon was his fourth-round berth achieved in 2017.

It would take a significant improvement for Zverev to challenge for the crown at the All England Club, although he is backed behind the big three of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer as the next best option in the Wimbledon winner odds at 18/1. The German does have the star potential, but whether he can put it all together with a surge to the latter stages of the competition is another matter given the quality of the top three players.

He was extremely underwhelming last season, failing to emerge beyond the first week of Wimbledon. Zverev’s form on the ATP Tour earned him the fourth seed for the competition, and he brushed aside James Duckworth with ease in the first round. However, American Taylor Fritz took him all the way to five sets, forcing the German to battle back to win the final two to advance to the third round. His exploits against Fritz took their toll in his next outing, resulting in a five-set defeat at the hands of Ernests Gulbis, losing the final two sets 6-3 6-0.

It was the same story at the US Open, failing to progress beyond the third round after being beaten by his compatriot Philipp Kohlschreiber. Zverev put that disappointment behind him to end the year on a high note in the ATP Tour Finals. In his group, the German was defeated by Djokovic, but overcame John Isner and Marin Cilic to book his place in the semi-finals. Zverev put forward arguably the best performance of his career to beat Federer before topping that display by winning in straights sets in his revenge match against Djokovic.

The results proved that the German is more than capable of beating the elite players, although he could not carry that forward into the Australian Open. Milos Raonic saw him off with ease in the first Grand Slam of 2019 in the fourth round. He improved his performance at the French Open, earning a quarter-final berth for the second year on the bounce. The presence of Djokovic ended his charge, dumping him out in straight sets.

Zverev has impressed in short stints, but has not managed to make a strong impression over two weeks of a major competition. He has bogged down in the early rounds, which has resulted in fatigue and his eventual premature exit. The 22-year-old has to become more clinical in the early rounds of Grand Slams to prepare himself for the challenge of the big three in the latter stages. Zverev has the quality, but needs to deliver on his potential.

High-Profile Abu Dhabi Exhibition Tournament Moves Earlier Before Christmas

Abu Dhabi, UAE: The 12th Mubadala World Tennis Championship is swapping ‘new balls please’ for ‘new dates please’. Tournament owner Flash Entertainment has announced the Arabian Gulf’s leading professional tennis experience will return to Abu Dhabi’s International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City from 19-21 December 2019 – one week earlier than its traditional spot on the calendar.

The tournament’s new dates are expected to increase the number of tennis fans, families and friends from the UAE and beyond swinging into the festive season by catching eight of the world’s leading tennis players – six male and two female – live in the UAE capital.

The strategic date switch is also designed to increase international attendance at the event, as pre-Christmas tourists combine world-class tennis action with Abu Dhabi’s distinct blend of hospitality, culture, tolerance and outstanding event organisation.

“The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has always been a huge hit with people from across the globe, offering intimate and unrivalled access to the world’s best players in a special, festival atmosphere. We are constantly looking to evolve the event and the new dates will enhance the senses of visitors and further cement Abu Dhabi’s reputation as the perfect winter holiday destination,” said John Lickrish, CEO, Flash Entertainment.
“The 12th Mubadala World Tennis Championship is picture perfect for spectators, with top-class on-court action, our popular Kids’ Day, player activities and a diverse bill of entertainment options off-court. The new dates have enabled us to enhance the spectator experience and the Tennis Village will be packed with fun festive activities for all. We look forward to welcoming everyone over the three days.”

Rashed Alharmoodi, Head of External Corporate Relations for Mubadala, the title sponsor of the tournament, commented: “Our long-standing support of this tournament is focused on the benefits it offers the community. Bringing world-class sports stars to the nation’s capital provides a great spectacle for sports fans while presenting role models for young people. It’s an opportunity for us to work with our partners to promote healthy living and an active lifestyle through tennis. Zayed Sports City is a fantastic, world-class venue for this event and we’re pleased with the role the Championship plays in promoting Abu Dhabi internationally.”

In addition to nine top-class matches across the three days, spectators can enjoy tennis clinics, autograph and question-and-answer sessions with the players and get involved in interactive competitions. Tournament hospitality offers unmissable food and beverage, while the grand slam range of F&B in the Tennis Village caters to all tastes.
Pre-registration for tickets is now open at http://www.mubadalawtc.com/pre-register-for-one-of-the-most-exclusive-experiences/ with tickets going on sale in July. Those who register for the special three-day package will earn the chance to purchase some of the best available seats closest to the action and an opportunity to meet the star players in the ‘MWTC Human Letter’ activation during the media day on December 18.For more information, visit www.mubadalawtc.com.

US Open’s New Coaching From Stands Experiment Goes Against The Sport’s Individual Nature

by Sharada Rajagopalan

When Wimbledon announced in 2018 after an extended match between John Isner and Kevin Anderson that it would be introducing a tie-break in the fifth set at 12-all, all eyes were set on the French Open.

The second major of the year made no similar overtures to appease to sentiments of wanting matches to end early and continued with the tradition of regulation scoring in the deciding set. Each five-setter that was played, including the thrilling quarterfinal between Stan Wawrinka and Stefanos Tsitsipas, vindicated this continuity without compunctions even among those wanting for changes in the scoring format.

However, in mid-2019, nearly a year later, if the US Open organisers had expected its decision to trial on-court coaching – from the stands – in the main draw matches this year would have nothing but teeming positivity, reality has been the opposite. The ones clamouring for modifications are also hesitant about accepting these, unmindful of the polished putting out of its rationale.

This wariness surrounding the potential implementation of on-court coaching maps out the wider impression of the move beyond what any finessed language can provide. That it is not a good move for a sport that is defined by its individuality and in which players are expected to come up with solutions to problems on their own, without any external support during the match.

Even these are just a couple of fundamentals upon which tennis rests. Regardless of these, players and coaches’ unsubtle mannerisms to contravene this principle makes for familiar viewing. For example, the infamy surrounding the 2018 women’s singles final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in which Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s ostensible coaching gestures accounted for more reactive responses than Osaka’s first major win.

It is not hard to decipher the US Open’s organisers to extend this option to players is another reactive demonstration to that incident. Only this time, it has manifested itself in a manner of appeasement at least towards the coach, if not towards the player.

For this reason, the biggest voice protesting against the move should be from Williams, apart from others who have criticised it, including former world No. 4 Tim Henman. For all the vociferousness she displayed about not being a direct recipient of Mouratoglou’s coaching tips while arguing with Carlos Ramos who, as the umpire officiating that final, had penalised her, this is the time when her words would carry heft. It would mean she would not only be living up to her claims but also was inclined towards to retaining conventionality as is.

However, the onus on ensuring the retention of tradition does not rest on Williams alone. It is on every player regardless of the gender divisions. Rather, to be specific, the argument for and against on-court coaching falls on the generation gap – and the different mindsets – existing in tennis presently.

With the WTA using on-court coaching as an expedient tool for about the last decade or so, there is an interesting correlation to be made in this context. It applies not just to the women but for the men as well.

The women who have come through the ranks in the professional circuit in this lengthy time-span have become used to the phenomenon of having their coach assist them as needed in a match. For them to have their respective coach helping them out from the stands would only be an extension of the existing normalcy. The same parallel can be made with the ATP NextGen. Of the youngsters thinking of these changes as widening (of sorts) of the rules of the NextGen ATP Finals that has on-court coaching in place and welcoming it.

If these scenarios do come to pass, the scope of USTA’s path of placation widens substantially. To the point it becomes the pivot introducing a newer tradition as suited to the ever-in-flux contemporary needs.

Ashleigh Barty Now A Grand Slam Champion Following Her Return From A Tennis Hiatus

Australian Ashleigh Barty beat Czech star Marketa Vondrousova in Saturday’s Women’s French Open Singles Final, becoming the first Australian female to win a singles title at Roland Garros since Margaret Court did so in 1973.

The 23-year-old stepped away from tennis to try her hand at professional cricket back in 2014 but returned in 2016, which has proven to be a great choice.

Barty, who went into the final as an 8th seed, bested her opponent 6-1, 6-3 on the Paris clay before sinking to the ground in apparent disbelief. The shock was understandable given the fact that she’d felt a need to quit the game for nearly two years earlier in her career. But she’s certainly returned much stronger.

She’s now set to climb the rankings to second in the world when standings are released next week and, by extension, will be the highest-ranked woman hailing from Australia since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1976.

“I never dreamt I’d be sat here with the French Open trophy,” she declared following her near-perfect victory.

On her decision to walk away from tennis in 2014, she said, “I needed time to step away, to live a normal life, because this tennis life certainly isn’t normal.”

“I never closed any doors, saying, ‘I’m never playing tennis again’,” she added.

It has been an amazing climb for the Australian, who started out at 623 after returning from her break. Since coming back, she has won four trophies, including the Miami Open and the US Open doubles. She’s also reached a total of four doubles Grand Slam finals alongside partner Casey Dellacqua.

Barty’s experience shone through when she took on Vondrousova in the French Open final on Saturday as she started out as the aggressor, taking three of nine break points to claim the opening set in just 29 minutes. These were the first Vondrousova had dropped in the entire tournament and Barty would not let go of the advantage after breaking again in the second set then holding off a break point to maintain a service game.

Vondrousova was ranked at 38 ahead of the final but will rise to the top 20 in the rankings in spite of her loss.

The new French Open women’s champion is soon to head to Wimbledon, with the tournament kicking off at the beginning of next month. Betfair has offered odds of +850 on her winning the competition outright and you could find the latest betting tips and the best betting offers, as well as free bets at bookmakers offers uk.

Seven-time Wimbledon champion Serena Williams will also be around to have a say and MoPlay is offering +450 on the 37-year-old coming out on top. Meanwhile, Betfair is offering +640 odds on Czech pro Petra Kvitova winning the tournament while Naomi Osaka is at +850 to emerge the victor with MoPlay.

Women’s tennis has no shortage of young talent at the moment and the final between 23-year-old Barty and the 19-year-old Vondrousova is proof of that. The former is actually the ninth different female champion in the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments while five of this year’s seven biggest WTA tournaments have been won by players who are 23 years and under.

French Open Champ Ash Barty Leads Porsche Race To Shenzhen

Ashleigh Barty rises to the top of the Porsche Race to Shenzhen Leaderboard after lifting her maiden Grand Slam singles title at Roland Garros. The Australian now owns two singles titles this season following her career first WTA Premier Mandatory crown at the Miami Open in March, surpassing Petra Kvitova for the No.1 spot on the Leaderboard.

Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova jumps nine positions to land within the Top 8 on the Leaderboard at No.7.

Johanna Konta climbs to No.9 following a semifinal run in Paris, while Amanda Anisimova soars 16 spots to No.13 after becoming the first player – male or female – born in the 2000s to reach a Grand Slam semifinal.

Kristina Mladenovic, the newly crowned WTA World No.1 doubles player, and Timea Babos claimed their second Grand Slam doubles title as a team in Paris, rising six spots to take over the No.1 position on the doubles Leaderboard.

Roland Garros represents lap number 27 out of 57 total (a reference to qualifying tournaments leading into the WTA Finals). The Top 8 singles players and doubles teams of 2019 will secure their spot at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, taking place from October 27 – November 3, 2019.

The singles player who finishes the regular season in pole position on the Porsche Race to Shenzhen Leaderboard will be congratulated with a new Porsche.

ROKit Named Official Mobile Handset Provider For Invesco Series Tennis

Global mobile phone company ROKiT has been named the Official Mobile handset provider of the Invesco Series QQQ tennis circuit, InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, the owners and operators of the North American tennis tour for champion tennis players over the age of 30, announced today.

Under the exclusive multi-year agreement, ROKiT will receive on-court signage at Invesco Series events, television inventory and title sponsorship of the Virtual Player Challenge System. In addition, Invesco Series co-founder and competitor, Jim Courier will become a Player Ambassador for ROKiT. Courier will wear ROKiT branding on court during Invesco Series tournaments and will represent ROKiT in global marketing campaigns.

The Invesco partnership is part of a wider tennis sponsorship campaign by ROKiT, who recently launched its range of affordable smart phones, packed with glasses-free 3D technology, and exclusive 3D content. The telco brand also announced signing multi-year partnerships with a series of high-profile global tennis stars and will be creating exclusive coaching content and filming behind the scenes footage of players in 3D.

“We are excited to welcome ROKiT to our family of sponsors at Invesco Series tennis,” said Courier, the former world No. 1 and two-time French and Australian Open champion. “We look forward to helping ROKiT tell the story of their cutting edge and affordable smart phone and mobile offerings via our media platforms.”

Commenting, Jonathan Kendrick, Chairman of ROK Brands said: “The Invesco Series enables us to showcase our ROKiT phones to a new audience of tennis fans. Our glasses-free 3D smart phones are the perfect device to watch world class tennis from, the viewing experience is unrivalled.”

About ROKiT
ROKiT is a telecommunications business that offers consumers state of the art mobile handsets and wireless connectivity at an unbeatable price. ROKiT has been founded by business innovator John-Paul DeJoria (John Paul Mitchell Systems, Patron Tequila, John Paul Pet) and Jonathan Kendrick (British entrepreneur). ROKiT’s core innovation is the brand’s unique combination of device and service offerings brought to market at aggressive, attention-getting price points. Additional information can be found at ROKiT.com

In 2018, Blake won his first Invesco Series QQQ year-long points championship by winning titles in Winston-Salem, New Haven and Houston, while also finishing as runner-up in Los Angeles and Orlando.

In 2017, the year-long points championship was decided in the final match of the season when Andy Roddick defeated James Blake in the Los Angeles final at the Sherwood Country Club. Roddick, the 2003 U.S. Open champion and world No. 1, won four Invesco Series QQQ titles in all in 2017, winning in Birmingham, Ala., Chicago, Lincoln, Neb., and Los Angeles. Blake, the former world No. 4 and former U.S. Davis Cup star, won series titles in Charleston, S.C., Winston-Salem, N.C. and in Lynchburg, Va.

In 2016, Mark Philippoussis won the Series points title with 1600 points and tournament titles in Memphis, Tulsa, Newport, Winston-Salem and New Haven. Roddick finished in second place, also earning 1600 points but losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with Philippoussis 5-2, while winning titles in Charleston, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Orlando. Blake finished in third place with 1100 points and tournament titles in Chicago, Portland and Brooklyn.

In 2015, Roddick won the Series points title in his second year of competing on the series with 1,600 points. Roddick won a record eight events Los Angeles, Lincoln, Chicago, Austin, Little Rock, Dallas, Richmond and Minneapolis. Blake finished second in the points rankings with 1,200 points, winning events in Boston and Cincinnati. Philippoussis finished in third with 1,100 points, winning titles in Salt Lake City and Vancouver. The year before in 2014, McEnroe won the points title for the first time in the nine-year history of Invesco Series QQQ tennis by winning events in Kansas City, Indianapolis, Nashville and Charlotte.

ABOUT INSIDEOUT SPORTS + ENTERTAINMENT
InsideOut Sports + Entertainment is a Los Angeles based producer of proprietary events and promotions founded in 2004 by former world No. 1 and Hall of Fame tennis player Jim Courier and former SFX and Clear Channel executive Jon Venison. In 2005, InsideOut launched its signature property, the Champions Series, a collection of tournaments featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30. In addition, InsideOut produces many other successful events including “Legendary Night” exhibitions, The World Series of Beach Volleyball and numerous corporate outings. Since inception, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment has raised over $5 million for charity. In 2014, InsideOut Sports + Entertainment merged with Horizon Media, the largest privately held media services agency in the world. For more information, please log on to www.InsideOutSE.com or InvescoSeries.com or follow on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

ABOUT HORIZON MEDIA
Horizon Media, Inc. is the largest and fastest growing privately held media services agency in the world. The company was founded in 1989, is headquartered in New York and has offices in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago. Horizon Media was chosen as 2011 Independent Media Agency of the Year by Mediapost, 2010 U.S. Media Agency of the Year by Adweek, Brandweek, and Mediaweek as well as by Ad Age and as one of the world’s ten most innovative marketing and advertising companies by Fast Company in 2011. In 2012, Bill Koenigsberg, President, CEO and Founder, was honored by Advertising Age as Industry Executive of the Year. Most recently, in 2014, Bill Koenigsberg was named 4As Chair of the Board and is the first person from a media agency to hold this prestigious position in the 100-year history of the 4As, the marketing industry’s leading trade association. The company’s mission is “To create the most meaningful brand connections within the lives of people everywhere.” By delivering on this mission through a holistic approach to brand marketing, Horizon Media has become one of the largest and fastest-growing media agencies in the industry, with estimated billings of over $5.3 billion and over 1,200 employees. The company is also a founding member of Columbus Media International, a multi-national partnership of independent media agencies. For more information, please visit horizonmedia.com

ABOUT INVESCO
Invesco Ltd. is an independent investment management firm dedicated to delivering an investment experience that helps people get more out of life. NYSE: IVZ; Invesco.com, Invesco Distributors, Inc. is the US distributor for Invesco Ltd. and is a wholly owned, indirect subsidiary of Invesco Ltd.”

Rakuten To Become Global Partner for Davis Cup

Rakuten, Inc. and Kosmos Tennis have announced a multiyear agreement with the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for Rakuten to become the Global Innovation and Entertainment Partner and Global Presenting Partner for the Davis Cup in 2019 and 2020.

Under the terms of the agreement, the competition will be renamed the Davis Cup by Rakuten. The partnership agreement links the Davis Cup and Rakuten until 2020, with the option of a further two-year extension. Rakuten will have high visibility in the Finals and Qualifiers.

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten, Inc. said, “By becoming the global partner of the Davis Cup, Rakuten has taken another important step forward in our mission to inspire and empower people across the globe. We are firm believers in the power of sport to bring people and communities together, and to inspire optimism and innovation.”
David Haggerty, ITF President, said, “We are delighted to welcome Rakuten as Global Presenting and Global Innovation and Entertainment partner. The Davis Cup has always been about maintaining tradition while embracing innovation. Adopting new technologies for the Davis Cup is allowing us to enter exciting new partnerships, and we look forward to working with Rakuten to reach a global audience in new and diverse ways.”

Javier Alonso, CEO Kosmos Tennis, said, “Having Rakuten as the main sponsor of the event is great news for the Davis Cup, the World Cup of Tennis. Innovation and entertainment is key both Rakuten and Kosmos. We are excited about working together to create new engagement formulas of interaction with the fans both inside and outside of Caja Mágica in order to improve their experience with the Davis Cup Qualifiers and the Madrid Finals.”
Rakuten, empowering people and society through sports

With over 1.2 billion members worldwide, Rakuten will leverage its experience and expertise in e-commerce and membership loyalty programmes to bring global innovation to the Davis Cup through digital and offline activations aimed at enhancing the complete fan experience. Future plans include opening up new avenues of online communications and content-sharing for supporters, including use of the Rakuten Viber global messaging platform and creating new programmes that will engage and reward fans both in-venue and globally.

Rakuten is globally recognised for its partnerships with sporting icons such as FC Barcelona, the Golden State Warriors and the National Basketball Association, and its ownership of J.League professional soccer team Vissel Kobe and Nippon Professional Baseball team Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. The company also serves as the title sponsor of the ATP Rakuten Japan Open since 2009 and contributes to sports worldwide as part of its mission of empowering people and communities.

Tickets on sale now
Tickets for the Davis Cup Madrid Finals, which will be held from 18-24 November at Caja Mágica in Madrid, are on sale now via the official website. Tickets start from €25 and special rates for children are also included.
The 18 teams competing for the chance to become world champion and lift the Davis Cup trophy are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Russia, Serbia, Spain and USA.

Why This Italian Clay Could Help Mold Britain’s Next Tennis Star

When one looks at the ATP Tour singles ranking, it is not hard to conclude that clay courts play a key role in producing world-class tennis players.

Eighteen of the top 200 are Italian, 14 are French, 14 are Spanish and 10 are from Argentina, all countries where natural clay is the most played-on surface.

For all of the money and resources in the United States, just nine players are in the top 200, while there are five from Great Britain, where hard courts and synthetic grass dominate.

It is similar in the women’s game. Five of the top 200 are French, six are Spanish, but just three come from GB.
That is not a coincidence, says Peter Sutton, a former club teaching professional who is now dedicated to bringing more natural clay courts to Britain. That is how GB will produce players who are as good as Kyle Edmund – to win the 2019 French Open in the latest tennis betting – or Jo Konta, 23 and 41 in the world respectively, never mind generational talents such as Andy Murray.

“There is a cultural belief because that clay doesn’t suit the UK,” says Sutton, who turned his hobby into his job when he set up his own business, Clay Court Services, in 2012. “But from a coach’s point of view, it is easier to teach a youngster on a slow surface. When you learn to drive, you don’t get in a Formula 1 car, you go at 20mph. There are plenty of health benefits to playing on this surface. There is less stress on the knees and the back.

“I’ve spoken to top-class coaches who say it has added 10 years onto their coaching lives,” he continued. “When you’re on a hard court seven or eight hours a day, your body can suffer quite dramatically. You can slide on clay courts. Top professionals are playing such a harsh game, but they can fly into shots with the slide helping absorb the impact on joints and ligaments. It also teaches players so much more about patience, shot production and the mental side of the game. There are more rallies, the ball keeps coming back.”

The reason why clay courts are not popular in the UK is because they’re made from shale, a sedimentary rock that is difficult to sustain in bad weather and produces “a lot of bad bounces” if poorly maintained.

But Sutton is only interested in the best, which is why Clay Court Services are the sole suppliers to the UK of Terre Davis clay, the company based in Cremona, Northern Italy, that supplies clay to the Italian Championships in Rome, the Monte Carlo Open and several other tennis federations around the world.

Sutton installed the UK’s first court built from Terre Davis’ clay at his home club in Little Aston, Birmingham, before doing the same at various others around the country.

“Terre Davis hadn’t really exported to the UK – they didn’t think there was a market there,” he says. “But on a small budget we were able to develop a little bit of a makeover for some small clubs to get their clay courts to play better.”

His work got the attention of the LTA, so much so that four courts are now being built at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.

“It’s a good start,” he says, “but we’ll have to see, from a cultural point of view, whether they think this is the way forward.”

Sutton cites an example from the other side of world that he believes the UK is capable of emulating.

“Australia used to dominate world tennis in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but that began to drop off,” he says. “If you look at the stats, that’s because they were producing big guys who were just hitting the ball at a million miles an hour and not expecting the ball to come back.

“I spoke to an ex-pro, Terry Rocavert, who used to play on the clay circuit. He went back to the Australian federation with this Italian clay.

“They built over 40 clay courts, including seven or eight at Melbourne Park, and they’ve now got 11 players in the top 200.”

This article is brought to you by Betway.

A Look At The “King of Clay” Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is one of the greatest tennis players of the current generation, but his best performances have always been on the clay court, with the French Open at Roland Garros being his tournament.

With a record 11 French Open titles to his name, Nadal is undoubtedly the “King of Clay”, and he could potentially add to his record this year when the French Open returns.

Nadal has been named as the favourite for this year’s title, with the odds being found here – https://www.betfair.com/exchange/plus/tennis/competition/11948682 – but could this just be start of a great season for the Spaniard?

His first Grand Slam title came in 2005 at the French Open, where Nadal didn’t drop a single set until his fourth-round match against Sébastien Grosjean. He eventually defeated his French opponent 6-4, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3 to claim a place in the quarter-finals of the competition.

At the quarter-final stage, he met fellow Spaniard David Ferrer, but returned to his dominant form, winning in straight sets 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 to set up a tantalising semi-final match against an already-established Roger Federer.
His Swiss rival was always likely to prove to be his toughest test, and so it proved, as Nadal wasn’t quite so dominant in the match. Regardless, he managed to win in four sets, defeating Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4. 6-3, to reach the first singles final of his professional career.

He met Argentine Mariano Puerta in the final, and lost the first set via a tie break. He hit back to comfortably win the second and third sets 6-3 and 6-1 respectively before Puerta put in an attempt at a comeback and forced Nadal to win by seven games to five in the fourth set.

Victory in the final not only gave Nadal his first taste of success, but also showed the world that he was one to watch out for. Not once during the tournament was he taken to five sets, and ever since then, he has only been taken to five sets twice at the French Open – in 2011 against John Isner and 2013 against Novak Djokovic.

Until 2012, the record for the most French Open titles belonged to Björn Borg, one of the greatest players to have ever played in the Open Era. Between 1974 and 1981, Borg won six French Open titles, which Nadal surpassed in 2012 with his seventh.

During his historic 2012 victory, he lost just one set in the seven matches he played. From the first round until victory in the semi-final, he defeated every opponent in straight sets. It was only in the final that he final dropped a set. Novak Djokovic was the man to prevent him from having a clean sweep in the French Open, winning the third set 6-2.

Two years later and Nadal won his ninth French Open, which meant that he broke the record which included the French Championships, which were part of the Amateur Era. Max Decugis won eight French Championships prior to 1968 and looking at Nadal’s current record of 11, it’s hard to see anyone surpassing that number any time soon.

Wobbly Nadal, Resurgent Djokovic, Stranger Federer Ready For Intriguing Italian Championships

The Internazionali BNL d’Italia, or the Italian Championships in Rome, is the fifth ATP Masters 1000 event of the year and the last big test before the start of the French Open, the second major championship of the year. This year’s tournament is full of intrigue that will provide for many dramatic moments.

Perhaps the biggest surprise and question mark leading into the event is the form of Rafael Nadal. The “King of Clay” and eight-time tournament winner is in the worst clay-court slump of his career, winning only nine matches on his favorite dirt surface so for this season and had not even reached a final in his three previous clay-court events. He lost to Fabio Fognini handily in the semifinals of Monte Carlo, in straight sets again in the semifinals of the Barcelona Open and to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Is this spurt of mediocre play an indication that the soon-to-be 33-year-old Nadal is finally starting to wear down and perhaps may be closer to retirement than we think or will the Mallorcan channel his frustration and anger at poor results by his lofty standards that will he win for a ninth time in Rome and again later in Paris for a 12th time?
Last year, Nadal also wobbled into Rome, following a quarterfinal loss to Thiem in Madrid, but recovered to win his eighth title in Rome, beating defending champion Alexander Zverev in the final.

This will be his 15th consecutive appearance in Rome and he comes in with a 56-6 career record (8-2 in finals). He has advanced to the quarterfinals or better in 13 of his previous 14 visits to the Italian capital. Nadal will attempt to become the first player on the ATP Tour this year to defend a title from last season.

The Rome field features 17 of the top 20 players including former champions Nadal, an eight-time winner, Novak Djokovic, a four-time champion, and 2017 winner Alexander Zverev. These three account for 13 of the past 14 titles. Djokovic, fresh off his important win in Madrid, is aiming to hoist the Rome trophy for the first time since 2015, after losses in the final in 2016 (to Andy Murray) and 2017 (to Zverev), and a semifinal loss to Nadal last year. Last Monday started the 250th week the Serb was at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings.

The most intriguing entry in the Rome field this year is Roger Federer, who is making his first appearance at the event since 2016. It is one of the very few events in his career that he has not won. His last showing in Rome was a third-round loss to Dominic Thiem on May 12, 2016. That loss to Thiem was the Swiss star’s last clay-court match at any event until he played in Madrid this past week, where he reached the quarterfinals before falling to Thiem once again.

After his win on Monte Carlo, top Italian Fognini is on the verge of cracking the top 10 and is a legitimate contender for his home nation’s title. Fognini, however, is only 10-11 lifetime in Rome, with last year’s quarterfinal as his best result. The last Italian in the ATP Rankings Top 10 was Corrado Barrazzutti on January 22 1979 and Fognini would have to likely better his quarterfinal result to jump into the top 10. The last home country player to win the most prestigious title in Italy was Adriano Panatta in 1976.

Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece comes into Rome as the ATP Tour match wins leader, earning his 27th win of the season with his semifinal victory over Nadal at Madrid. Tsitsipas was ranked No. 43 at Rome in 2018, and had to qualify for last year’s main draw. His win in Portugal on the clay earlier this season and his final-round effort in Madrid make him a tennis betting contender for the title in Rome and later this year in Paris.