Category Archives: Rafael Nadal

AUSTRALIAN OPEN: From Valedictorians to Class Clowns, Here are Grades for the Year’s First Major

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Maria Sharapova icing down during a match

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Stan Wawrinka, next banner up

Genie Bouchard. Next.

Genie Bouchard. Next.

We got an inspirational new champion, a re-invented former champion, a few possible future champions and then, well, failure and theater of the absurd. Really, Australian Open officials? It’s OK to have players out there in 110 degree heat because people used to chase antelope in Africa?

WHAT?

So here are the final grades for the Australian Open, of valedictorians, teacher’s pets, class clowns and everything in between.

VALEDICTORIANS

LI NA: In a sport in need of mainstream attention, Li not only gives tennis something every sport dreams of – something to market to the massive population and economy of China – but also a post-championship match victory speech that goes viral. As a result, Li might be the most important player in the women’s game today, maybe even more than Serena Williams. Li was able to win the Australian Open without beating a top player, but that’s not her fault. Eight months ago, with her results failing and the Chinese media ripping her, Li nearly retired. Her work with new coach Carlos Rodriguez has helped the sport big time. Grade: A+

STAN WAWRINKA: Wawrinka’s championship was even more impressive than Li Na’s, considering the tougher competition he had to beat. He spent the past few years thinking he was never going to be able to break through the Big Four in men’s tennis, but finding honor in getting up after every defeat to keep fighting anyway. And then he took down Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. You can’t win two major tennis matches by fluke. He earned this. Grade: A+

TEACHER’S PETS

ANA IVANOVIC: The game has just been waiting for her to get her nerve back. And she came out firing again. She beat Serena Williams, not to mention Sam Stosur, and showed that she’s perfectly capable of being a top 10 player again and a threat to win another major. . .if she keeps believing. Grade A-

ROGER FEDERER: New racquet, new coach (Stefan Edberg), new, aggressive gameplan. Same results? Federer lost to Rafael Nadal again. Well, that is a completely unfair analysis. Federer is finally doing all the right things. It is the only way he’s going to win another major, and he finally seems to realize that. It’s not just that he’s coming to the net, but that he’s trying to step into the ball and attack. Sure, he waffled on it against Nadal. This is all new to Fed. It was a GREAT first step. I was starting to watch him and wonder who he’d lose to next while slicing and dinking. Now, I can’t wait to see him. He still can’t beat Nadal, but he now is a threat to win another major or two. He still has game. He even has a legit shot at the French Open. Grade: A

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA: Hard to know if Cibulkova just changed her career, but remember this: She came into the Australian Open as a known choker. She left with wins over No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 6 Aga Radwanska and No. 11 Simona Halep before reaching the final. Forgive her for some nerves early in her first major final. That happens. The thing about women’s tennis is that there are only a couple of superstars. The women’s players are sort of cookie-cutter, and if someone with talent and nerves of steel comes along, then it’s going to take a top player playing well to beat her. Hope is that this won’t be Cibulkova’s Melanie Oudin-moment, and that she’ll have found her nerve for the long run. Grade: A+

ACED THE CLASS, FLUNKED THE FINAL

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Aga Radwanska plays brilliantly, wins

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

Aga Radwanska plays stupidly, loses

AGA RADWANSKA: She might have played the match of the tournament in beating Victoria Azarenka. She was everywhere on the court, with just enough power. Azarenka was flustered and confused. And the media hailed Radwanska as a genius for that match. But in her semifinal match against Dominika Cibulkova, Radwanska played as if she had had a lobotomy. I’m not even sure Radwanska tried. When things weren’t working, she kept doing them. There was no hint of strategy. This is the problem with the almost-greats. You see incredible things, and then you are reminded why they don’t reach the mountaintop (see Tomas Berdych). Same thing happened with Radwanska at Wimbledon. So what’s the grade? Well, I think she’s good enough to win a major, and marketable enough to be a star. And that semifinal match was so bad, I can barely remember the Azarenka match. Grade: F.

TOMAS BERDYCH: He reached the semifinals, and then smiled and credited his team when he was told that he had become the only current player outside the Big Four to reach the semis of all four majors. Hey Tomas, that’s not really a compliment. Another way of putting it: You are the only player on tour to reach the semis of all four majors, but never win one. Berdych is adding topspin to his forehand, which is being credited for his recent improved play. I don’t know about that. That flat forehand was the reason he was winning matches. The way he fell apart briefly against David Ferrer in the quarters was shocking. Lost his nerve at moments against Stan Wawrinka in the semis, too, but in hindsight, it’s hard to mark him down too far for losing to the champ. One more thing: there was nothing wrong with Berdych’s much-criticized prison-cell shirts, other than his team was wearing them, too. Grade: B

DAVID FERRER: When he lost to Berdych in the quarters in what I’m calling the Bridesmaid Bowl, he lost his unofficial title as best player never to win a major. He pushed the line judge, too, but at least he isn’t hitting balls into the stands at crying babies anymore. Still fighting hard. Still stuck in the land of almost. Maybe Wawrinka’s win will show him what’s possible. Grade: C

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AUSTRALIAN OPEN: Reality check for Federer. Crushed by Nadal, but Oz was Great Start to Reinventing Self

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Reality is reality and facts are facts. But the reality and facts of Rafael Nadal’s easy win over Roger Federer Friday in the Australian Open semifinal are based solely on what you expected.

What I mean is this: If people expected Federer to beat Nadal, then they really haven’t been paying attention lately. He was never going to win this match. Cold reality is that Nadal is far better now than Federer.

But the fact is this: These past two weeks have been a massive success for the reality of Roger Federer.

Jack Nicklaus used to say that he never wanted to be a ceremonial golfer, that he was there to win. Without changes, Federer was going to be just for show by the end of this year. He might not have been in the top 20.

Instead, at 32, he has already not only taken the first steps, but also placed himself back in position to win majors again.

Please read the rest of the column here

 


WIMBLEDON: Strange Cats-and-Dogs Cultural Truth About Women and Men on Tour

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

It was 7-6 in the tiebreaker Sunday at Wimbledon, and Novak Djokovic was about to lose. “Moment of Truth,’’ he yelled, trying to pressure and intimidate the, well, the kid on the other side of the net.

It was the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, the day off. The Bryan brothers got off their practice court at the same time Juan Martin del Potro got off his, and they took pictures together. The Bryan Bros. posted one on their Twitter account.

Djokovic had somehow run into a highly ranked junior boy, and they practiced together for a few minutes, then played a tiebreaker. Djokovic was screaming at him, trash-talking him. Still, the kid won, and Djokovic dropped and gave five pushups.

This all comes together as just another example of a strange cultural truth in tennis that has become more and more evident the past two weeks: For some reason, the women on tour don’t seem to get along with each other, and the men do.

This Wimbledon started with a storyline about the bickering between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Their dislike of each other was never exactly a secret, but it had never been this open before. Serena took shots, presumably at Sharapova, in an article in Rolling Stone magazine, and Sharapova shot back that if Serena wants to talk about personal things, she should stick to the fact that she’s a homewrecker.

It just seemed like a fun-to-watch personal thing. But more and more, things anecdotally keep popping up to show that it’s bigger than that.

“I think so,’’ John Isner told me early last week with a laugh that seemed to say, `That’s the understatement of the year.’ The women, you don’t even see them practice together. It’s weird.’’

By contrast, Isner said that on Monday, he and Roger Federer happened to be in the locker room at the same time.

“We were in the showers, and started talking WWE (professional wrestling),’’ Isner said. “I kid you not.’’

Please read the rest of the column here 


WIMBLEDON: Nadal has a Buster Douglas Moment. . .Again. Legacy in Question

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REPORTING FROM THE ALL ENGLAND CLUB IN WIMBLEDON

LONDON

The greatest player of all time can’t be losing a match like this. Not in his prime. Not at Wimbledon. And certainly not twice in a row there.

Just when the conversation was turning, when people — including me — were starting to wonder if maybe Rafael Nadal might be the best player ever, and not Roger Federer, Nadal did something that Federer never does:

He lost to a journeyman Monday in the first round of Wimbledon. Nadal lost to Steve Darcis, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4. That’s right, the Steve Darcis, ranked No. 135 and with a losing career tour record.

“Two weeks ago, I was in a fantastic situation, wining a fantastic tournament (French Open),’’ Nadal said. “Two weeks later, I lost here in the first round. That’s the positive and the negative thing about this sport.’’

The question is why this happened to Nadal, against a guy who had less of a shot at beating him than Buster Douglas had of knocking out Mike Tyson. And what does this mean to his legacy? And how much limping is he going to do in the future?

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: 10 Predictions Come with Money Back Guarantee

Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams

FOXSports.com national columnist Greg Couch digs into 10 questions that get to the heart of the French Open, which starts Sunday at Roland Garros in France. 

Q. It’s Nadal, Djokovic and … ummm … can anyone else on the men’s side win this thing?

A. Only Federer. And even he doesn’t have much of a shot, especially with his back and knee problems. The thing is, with Nadal out so long last year and into this year with worn-out knees, his ranking has dropped. Also, he and Djokovic are on the same side of the draw and may have to play each other before the final. It is the perfect storm of a draw for Federer. That’s sort of the equivalent of the SEC Championship Game — with the two best teams — deciding who gets to play in the BCS title game. Then, the rest of the country, basically the minor leagues, gets to fill the other spot. Federer is able to beat Djokovic on the right day, and Nadal’s knees might blow up at any time.

Please read the rest of the column here at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Roger Federer Wins Again. No. 17, No. 7, and now No. 1

REPORTING FROM WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND – It’s not that Roger Federer is great, but that his greatness keeps going and going and going. He doesn’t get hurt because he floats above the court. He doesn’t give in. He doesn’t get old. And it’s amazing that he has never had enough.

He’s greedy about winning. It’s like he has an insatiable tennis libido or something.

Federer won Wimbledon on Sunday, beating Andy Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. The key numbers are these: 17, 7 and 1. It was his 17th major championship, adding to his record. It was his record-tying (with Pete Sampras) seventh Wimbledon win.

And now, Federer jumps over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic — two guys who had bypassed him — in the rankings. Roger Federer is No. 1 again.

“I knew how close I was for the last few years, and some people didn’t quite see that, maybe out of different reasons,’’ he said. “But I knew, and I think the belief got me to victory today.’’

As he held the championship cup, his first major in 2½ years, he said this: “Feels nice. Like it’s never left me.’’

Oh, it left him. Federer needed this championship badly.

Please read the rest of my column at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Rafael Nadal Loses in Biggest Upset in Tennis History

 

(Published June 29, 2012) We are prone to overstatement. Everything is bigger than the biggest, better than the best, faster than the fastest. It sells. But it also blurs reality, and confuses things when the oh-my-God stuff really does happen.

On Thursday, it really did happen. Rafael Nadal lost in the second round of Wimbledon. Who did he lose to? That’s what someone asked me a few minutes after it was over, a few minutes after I had watched every single point of that match for hours.

The answer: Um, uh. Can’t remember. Some guy with the same number of letters in his name as Nadal.

Some guy turned out to be Lukas Rosol, a 26-year-old from the Czech Republic who had never done anything before. He has lost more matches in his career than he has won.

And he beat Nadal 6-7 (11-9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

It was the biggest upset in the history of tennis.

That is not hyperbole.

Please read the rest of my column here at FoxSports.com


WIMBLEDON: Men’s Preview Video

Novak Djokovic wins Wimbledon in 2011. Will he win again?

Here is a video on FoxSports.com previewing the men’s draw at Wimbledon. I pick Rafael Nadal.

Click here to watch at Fox Sports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Rafael Nadal on Red Clay, Greatest Force in Sports Ever

(June 12, 2012) Three minutes before he took the court at Roland Garros on Monday, Rafael Nadal wasn’t ready. It had been a rough night, he said. A day earlier, he was putting Novak Djokovic away in the French Open final, and then Djokovic started rolling over him the way he had done all last year.

The match was stopped for the night because of rain. But think of what Nadal went through after that: Djokovic had beaten him in the finals of the past three majors. Djokovic had gotten inside Nadal’s head. Djokovic, for the past year, had been the immovable force in tennis.

Well, forget all that, because in those final three minutes before taking the court Monday, Nadal felt the comfort of home. His home: Roland Garros. Nadal won his record seventh French Open, 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. Djokovic is not the immovable force of tennis, after all. Nadal on red clay is.

In fact, Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros is the greatest, most dominant individual force in sports today, maybe ever.

Tiger Woods at the Masters? No. Mike Tyson? No. Maybe Usain Bolt. Maybe Michael Phelps, but that was a one-time thing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. We’ll see how they do this summer in London.

Please read the rest of my column on FoxSports.com


FRENCH OPEN: Greed Costs Nadal, Djokovic, Tennis Great Moment in History

 

You can’t force history to happen. But you sure can stop it with greed, stupidity, recklessness. Tennis ruined a great moment Sunday, just sold it out to broadcasters, to NBC.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, two all-time greats, were both going for historic heights in the French Open final. It was a dream buildup in a great, new rivalry for a sport that needs as many big moments as it can find. But it rained the whole match, and officials, trying to keep broadcasters happy, kept letting the match go on and on, anyway.

What happened? Not historic greatness, that’s for sure. The showcase was ruined. Everyone lost. Fans saw a crummy match, and it never even finished. Nadal led two sets to one, and trailed 2-1 in the fourth when the match was finally stopped because, well, it’s hard to say why it was stopped, really.

Nothing had changed over the final hour of the match. It just kept drizzling. Maybe officials realized that their greed over TV money, their desperation to make broadcasters happy, had stolen Nadal’s magic and was turning their party into a disaster.

Well, the match is supposed to start up again at 7 a.m. (ET) Monday. But the forecast in Paris calls for more rain. This could drag on for a while.

It comes down to this: They never should have played that match Sunday.

Please read the rest of the column on FoxSports.com


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