Rafael Nadal withdraws from Queen’s Club

It used to be that the iconic photo during the first week of the grass-court season, was Rafael Nadal going almost directly from the winner’s circle in Paris to the practice courts of Queen’s Club in London.

But the 11-time French Open champion is 32 now, and his body has spoken.

Nadal will pass on playing the Queen’s Club tournament. And barring a last-minute entry into Eastbourne, he will head to Wimbledon without having played a tuneup event.

“Queen’s is a great event, I have happy memories of winning the title in 2008 and I wanted to come back this year,” said Nadal, in a statement released by the tournament. “But it has been a very long clay court season for me with great results. I would like to say sorry to the tournament organizers and most of all to the fans that were hoping to see me play, but I have spoken to my doctors and I need to listen to what my body is telling me.”

Still a stellar field

withdraws
On Tuesday, June 10, 2008, Nadal arrived at Queen’s Club on the heels of his French Open title, to start his grass-court prep immediately. Back then, the grass-court prep season was just two weeks, and the London event began immediately after the end of Roland Garros.

The entry list, even without Nadal, remains stellar – especially with the addition of Novak Djokovic this week.

The next question mark will be whether home-country hero Andy Murray will play.

Murray has not played a competitive match since losing in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last July, He had hip surgery during the Australian Open in January.

And the Scot pulled out of planned participation in a grass-court tournament this week in the Netherlands.

As well, Diego Schwartzman of Argentina has also pulled out of Queen’s, with an abdominal injury.

In other news, American John Isner has withdrawn from a competing event in Halle, Germany.

With No. 11, Nadal finally feels the French love

PARIS – The applause kept coming for Rafael Nadal, on the occasion of his unthinkable 11th French Open title Sunday.

It came in waves. And it wouldn’t stop.

The man himself stood on the court he has made his own. And he didn’t know what else to do but nod, and wave, and smile.

And then the tears came.

“For me, I don’t have words to describe the motions I felt at that moment. Something exceptional for me to find myself on that court,” Nadal said later, in one of his endless television interviews. “Nowhere else do I feel this.”

The accolades and the banners held aloft in the crowd and the commemorative merchandise came with the 10th title a year ago – La Décima.

But perhaps the love of the French partisans finally came with this one – La Undécima.

The Austrian Dominic Thiem was vanquished, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. And as he put it, winning at Roland Garros 11 times is one of the most outstanding things that has ever been achieved in sport.

And yet, if Nadal had conquered the tournament, he had never quite conquered the French.

love

The French stingy with the love

It has always been somewhat surprising, because the Mallorcan has been unwavering in his devotion to the city, its fans, the tournament and everyone associated with it.

“Since the first time that I came here until today is a love story with this event, not only with the victories, but this is all about the people who is working the event, too. I feel very close to all of them,” Nadal said in his press conference later in the evening.

With the passing of time, he even has spoken more and more in la langue de Molière in post-match interviews.

lovePerhaps it was because he kept winning it, taking much of the suspense out of the fortnight.

Perhaps Paris is more Roger Federer territory, a place reluctant to embrace a kid from a small town on a small Spanish island.

We certainly know they prefer their tennis more … artistic? Although art is in the eye of the beholder.

Nadal won’t have forgotten the emotions he felt back in 2009, when Robin Soderling defeated him and the crowd was firmly on the Swede’s side.

“They say it themselves and it’s true, the Parisian crowd is pretty stupid. I think the French don’t like it when a Spaniard wins,” Nadal’s uncle and former coach Toni Nadal said at the time. “Wanting someone to lose is a slightly conceited way of amusing yourself. They show the stupidity of people who think themselves superior.”

loveNadal has never actively sought their love, but he has unequivocally deserved it.

On Sunday, he felt it – maybe really and truly for the first time.

Perhaps that’s why he hugged the Coupe des Mousquetaires a little more tightly this time, as if he never wanted to let it go.

He did say later that the emotions weren’t necessarily stronger than they were a year ago.

Just different.

“Last year was very, very important. It had been awhile I hadn’t been winning when I got here last year,” Nadal said. “I feel like each year, it’s tougher to win it. Because the years are passing. I’m 32 now.”

Suspense – but not about the outcome

This was the first time Nadal had met a much-younger opponent in the French Open final.

And Thiem was a worthy foil, arguably the second-best clay-court player on the planet. It’s clear Nadal sees him as his successor, and considers him a good friend as well.

loveSo there was a different dynamic to the quest for undécima, a faint hope for a changing of the guard – or at the very least, a compelling final.

Thiem, after all, had beaten Nadal three of the seven times they had played somewhere other than Paris.

But in Paris, in two attempts, he had failed to win a set.

In this third attempt, Thiem also failed to win a set.

Lucky with the weather

The biggest suspense on the day concerned whether the weather would cooperate. Rain and a thunderstorm were nearly guaranteed to hit the 16th arrondissement somewhere in the late afternoon or evening.

For nearly three weeks, through the qualifying and the main draw, this had been a possibility. But somehow, with only a couple of exceptions, the showers circumnavigated Roland Garros and allowed the tournament to proceed more or less on schedule.

Not 45 minutes after all the festivities were concluded, the wind picked up. And the thunder bellowed. And then the rain fell.

A worrisome moment

loveAs Nadal was serving up a break in the third set at 2-1, at 30-love on his serve, he suddenly bolted to his chair after missing his first serve.

He was grabbing the middle finger on his left hand. And he looked really concerned.

The doctor and trainer immediately came out, as Nadal ripped off the tight wrap around his wrist that he said was to keep the sweat away from his racket hand. (He had it on the right wrist as well).

loveHe stretched out the finger. And the physio massaged his forearm arm, up past the wrist, to get some blood flowing back into the finger.

Nadal finally returned to the service line for his second serve – and double-faulted.

But if the finger bothered him, it didn’t show.

Thiem didn’t win another game.

“Sort of a cramp”

“I had sort of cramp in the finger, and I couldn’t move it, and I was worried. I told myself I could have wasted all that energy if I couldn’t continue,” Nadal said to FranceTV. “The finger wouldn’t move. I couldn’t hold the racquet. So of course I was worried.”

Until then – and even after that – Nadal was in pure beast mode.

As much time as Nadal was taking between points, Thiem probably wasn’t objecting. So many of the points ended up with the Austrian fighting for oxygen.

love

If the point was short, Thiem was there with Nadal. If the point was very long, he stood his ground. But on the points between four and nine shots, Nadal was the master.

loveThe Austrian hit the ball as hard as he possibly could. But it still came back. And the moment he didn’t, Nadal finished it off.

“I did the best that I could, but there’s a reason why Rafa won here 11 times. He’s obviously the toughest challenge in tennis, and he showed it once again. I didn’t play that bad. I was fighting for every ball, but he was just too good. So I have to accept it,” Thiem said.

“To me, it’s still been two great weeks. I still remember when you won here for the first time in 2005 I was 11 years old, watching on the TV. And honestly I never expected one day that I would play the finals here, so I’m really happy,” he said to Nadal during the trophy ceremony.

“I lost the final in the in the juniors seven years ago, and I lost the final today, I hope I will have another chance, maybe against you, that would be a dream.”

Scheduling leaves Nadal fans crushed

PARIS – If the practice-court schedulers had seen the mass of humanity that gathered in and outside Court No. 1 Saturday to watch Rafael Nadal practice with Lucas Pouille, they might have known better.

The 10-time champion booked a two-hour block for practice Sunday with countryman Pablo Andujar.

And they ended up on … Court 17.

That’s not Court 17: 2017-and-earlier edition. That was one of the show courts even if it was all the way at the end of the site.

This was Court 17: new edition. It’s probably the only court on the entire site that doesn’t have a single seat around it. As in, zero. It’s tucked into a small area and, during the qualifying, was used mostly for the half-hour warmup slots for the players ahead of their matches. 

There isn’t even any space around that court for fans to stand to watch. There is a tiny area at one corner that might, at best, fit 15 people if you cram them in who might actually get a clear view.

So, predictably, it was utter chaos in that area of the Roland Garros site for nearly two hours Sunday.

Here’s what it looked like.

No access to Court 18

Meanwhile, there was a young French player on new Court 18, the replacement for the old Court 17 and a permanent, sunken court all the way at the back of the site.

So there was going to be demand for seating on that court – even more as Grégoire Barrere took an early two-sets-to-none lead on Radu Albot of Moldova.

But there was basically no way to get through, short of finding an exit, going all the way around the outside of the site, and re-entering through the gate next to that court.

There were people crammed in everywhere trying to get a look. They were even looking down from the elevated walk on Court 18.

There was a an abject lack of security around – save for one officious fellow whose job was to shoo the folks standing up in the last row of Court 15 right next to it.

It’s pretty hot out today. And add that to the humidity and the crush of mankind, it looked like a potential disaster waiting to happen. 

In the end, it seemed there was no harm done, other than most of the people out there never did catch a glimpse of their idol.

Hopefully they’ll figure out a better alternative next time.

Rafael Nadal hits the court in Paris (video)

PARIS – Rafael Nadal hit the practice court at the French Open for the first time Thursday, with a two-hour session on Court Suzanne Lenglen.

He had two more court times booked – two hours each – on Friday.

Nadal’s opponent on Thursday was quality clay-courter Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.

The Mallorcan is obviously the prohibitive favorite at Roland Garros once again this year, as he seeks his 11th career title and comes into it in redoubtable form, based on his efforts during the clay-court season so far.

He also returns as the No. 1 player in the world, flipping with Roger Federer yet again as of Monday.

That wouldn’t change his seeding in Paris, obviously, with Federer once again skipping it this year.

First up is Dolgopolov

Nadal’s first-round opponent is Alexander Dolgopolov, who has been a bit of a ghost this spring as he returns from injury. 

The Ukrainian had been out since the Australian Open when he lost in the first round of Marrakech to No. 221 Andrea Arnaboldi last month. And he didn’t return until a month later, when he won just four games against Novak Djokovic in the first round of Rome.

So he wouldn’t be expected to put up much opposition.

There are some quality players through his first couple of rounds. But the first seed Nadal would be expected to face is No. 27 Richard Gasquet.

Unfortunately for Gasquet, he’s 0-15 against Nadal, even though he hasn’t played him on clay since 2011. He also hasn’t taken a set off Nadal in nearly 10 years.

After that, it could be Jack Sock, or Denis Shapovalov.

Here are some pics from the Thursday practice.

US Open to use serve clock in main draw

The US Open was the first to experiment with strict limits on the warmup period and time between points in its qualifying and junior events last year. This year, the last Grand Slam tournament of the season is taking it one step further.

According to a story from the New York Times, warmup limits and 25-second  “shot clock” will be used in the main draw events as well this year.

“Pace of play is a major issue in sports today. We recognize that and we want to be ahead of it,” USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier told the Times.

Were there any concrete science concluding the time-conservation rules resulted in an actual shortening of matches, no doubt someone (the Australian Open used the same rules in its own qualifying in January) would have produced it.

If matches are going longer these days, it more likely due to the fact that points are being shortened at the net a lot less frequently than in past eras. As a result, long rally after long rally means many matches can average an hour a set.

Qualifying experiment drama-free

Anecdotally, from walking around the courts all day at the qualifying both in New York last summer and Melbourne in January, there were very few instances where the players went over the 25-second limit between points. 

The serve clock did highlight players who were especially quick, though. There were many who typically took 15 seconds or less. But at least at the qualies level, the vast majority of the players just get on with it.

Sometimes, the conversation between the chair umpire and the two players at the net had to be extended. The umpires had to explain the changes. And it seemed that some players actually hadn’t gotten the memo.

Some were worried about being penalized for not being ready to serve at the start of matches. So they shortened their five-minute warmup period.

In the feature pic at the top, Canadian Françoise Abanda is heading back to the baseline to serve – with time left in the regular warmup period. The one-minute period between the end of the warmup and when the first serve must be struck hadn’t even begun.

Rafael Nadal will be pleased – not

At the main draw level – especially in its upper reaches – the proportion of time-wasters seems bigger. 

With all his rituals, Rafael Nadal is the most-mentioned offender. But he’s not alone. In recent months, Novak Djokovic has returned to his endless ball-bouncing ways. And Marin Cilic, out of nowhere, also has added a ball-bouncing ritual that takes up a lot of time.

(And yes, the perpetrators most often are on the men’s side – especially now that the human rain delay, Russia’s Maria Kirilenko, is retired).

(Note that the commentators – especially the former players, are absolutely no help in enforcing the rules).

Djokovic and Nadal probably set off all this focus on time with their five hour, 53-minute marathon at the Australian Open in 2012.

By the next year, the umpires were given directives to strictly enforce the existing rule. It was on the books, but they’d been notoriously lax with it. Many also are loath to be the bad guys and gals with players, by coming down on them about it.

Hot weather, longer breaks

According to a USA Today story, there were 36 time violations in the first five days of the Qatar Open, during the first week of that 2013 season. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez and Gaël Monfils in Doha, Marcos Baghdatis and Andy Murray in Brisbane, and Tomas Berdych in Chennai were among the perps.

By 2015, it came to a head in Rio de Janeiro between Nadal and longtime chair umpire Carlos Bernardes.

It doesn’t appear that Nadal has received significantly more time violation warning and sanctions than before. He also doesn’t seem to have speeded up very much.

But with the evidence right there on the serve clock for everyone in the stadium and at home to see, it’s going to create a very interesting dynamic for the time-wasters on the circuit.

The umpires themselves, and when they actually start the 25-second serve clock after points, will be under the microscope. They are allowed leeway after long points, on hot days and if there are crowd disturbances.

(Note Tommy Haas getting into trouble – at what is now his own tournament at Indian Wells).

No more lollygagging at the chair

But it’s more than just the 25 seconds.

Nadal also is one of the bigger lollygaggers after he arrives on court for a match.

How many times do you see the opponent, the umpire and whoever is out there to perform a coin toss standing at the net making awkward conversation for what seems an eternity? Meanwhile, Nadal arranges his bags, his drinks, sits down, has a little snack and only then finally gets to the net.

Now, the Mallorcan will have exactly one minute. The times we’ve put the clock on him, he’s typically taken three times that. He’ll have to snack in the locker room.

In one sense, it’s unfair to spring this on players in the middle of the season. They will not have had to deal with restrictions like this for a full eight months only to suddenly find themselves at a Grand Slam with additional elements to focus on.

The tennis authorities should really do it at the big tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati that lead up to the US Open. That would give the players a chance to practice it, get used to it, and not be distracted by it in New York.

Of course, that would require cooperation between the ATP, WTA and ITF. And we know how rarely that happens in tennis.

At any rate, it’s done. 

We await Nadal’s reaction next week, when he arrives in Monte Carlo.

Spain to Davis Cup semis in dramatic finale

The best thing about Davis Cup is that its rich history is so full of career-making moments.

It can be a relatively obscure bench player who does something spectacular, as Germany’s Tim Puetz did Saturday in the doubles tie against Spain.

Or it can be a player who’s had a fine career , but never ever quite had that moment to shine.

For David Ferrer, in his Valencia home, charged with winning a fifth and decisive rubber for the first time in his career, this was such a moment.

Ferrer, who turned 36 last week, was playing in his 24th career Davis Cup tie. And as sterling as his 27-5 record was, he had never carried the entire tennis nation on his shoulders.

Magic moment, at home, when it counts

But on Sunday, before a faithful home-city crowd, after the return of Rafael Nadal to the competition put the first two points up on the board but the French Open-champion pairing of Feliciano Lopez and Marc Lopez were shocked the day before, Ferrer seized the day.

Overmatched in his first match Friday against world No. 4 Alexander Zverev, Ferrer finally put away a valiant Philipp Kohlschreiber, 7-6 (1), 3-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 Sunday in four hours and 51 minutes.

The victory puts Spain in the September World Group semifinals against France.

The moment put Ferrer in the pantheon of his country’s sporting heroes.

“Very emotional, this competition. I have my best emotions in my career. So I’m really happy,” Ferrer said during an on-court interview after the match. “It’s really difficult to describe the feeling in this moment. Difference was in the final set. I played better than him. I was very focused, and the first set (which Ferrer won) was the key. In the first set maybe he was better than me, and after that it was very very close.

“For me its a dream, playing at home, here in Valencia, have the support of al the people, my family, my team. We’re in the semifinals, so it’s one of the best days in my career, for sure,” he added.

The day began with Ferrer’s teammate Rafael Nadal taking world No. 4 Alexander Zverev to school in a clinical 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 win. It evened the tie at 2-2 in the wake of Saturday’s doubles defeat, and gave Ferrer his opportunity to shine.

Tough conditions in the bullring

And it was a day that had everything. Rain. Cool temperatures. Blustery winds that blew the red clay into the eyeballs of players and fans alike. But as the big crowd approached its seventh hour in the Valencia bullring, not many had left.

Kohlschreiber was up 3-0 in the fourth set tiebreak. But he lost it. Ferrer was up a break in the fifth set. But Kohschreiber won three straight games to go ahead again. 

Germany had two break points at 3-4 to have an opportunity to serve for the tie. But two Kohlschreiber backhands – one topspin, one careful slice – flew over Ferrer’s baseline as the wind carried them a little too far.

At 5-5, 30-all, Kohlschreiber got an awkward bounce on the clay-deprived court, missed a forehand, and gave Ferrer an opportunity to break. 

And then, on an epic point that sums up Ferrer’s career and heart, he ran down at least three near-winners, one after another. After more than 4 1/2 hours on court, he made Kohlschreiber hit just one more ball.

It was a backhand volley, near the net. And Kohschreiber couldn’t make it.

After that, with Nadal still frantically cheering from the sidelines, Ferrer was able to close it out. He fell to the court in exhausted ecstasy.

Ultimate sportsmanship

dramatic
Before even celebrating with his teammates, Ferrer was over on the German side consoling opponent Philipp Kohlschreiber and his teammates.

And then, to no one’s surprise, after shaking the chair umpire’s hand and hugging his captain briefly, he immediately headed over to his vanquished opponent, as Kohlschreiber sat disconsolate on the German bench.

A consoling moment with him, hugs and handshakes for the German squad. And only then did he head over to get mobbed by his teammates.

“I feel so emotional because … the match the both played was unbelievable. Also very special for David, that we love, one of the greatest person on the circuit. I think he deserves a match like this one, Davis Cup, in front of this crowd,” captain Sergi Bruguera said in an on-court interview.

“Philipp, he played an unbelievable match, one of the best matches I ever saw him play. … All the match was an incredible level of tennis, incredible intensity, for five hours.”

Ferrer didn’t even want to think about France, about September, about anything but the moment.

For me it’s one of the best days of my life, and I want to enjoy it,” he said. “Maybe one glass of red wine.”

Davis Cup quarterfinal primer (Final results)

You can tell the 2020 Summer Games are coming up sooner than we realize.

Because some of the big players are looking to get their Olympic criteria met by playing Davis Cup (and Fed Cup, in a few weeks).

One interesting thing that is going to come out of this weekend is that there is going to be a LOT of public comment about the proposed major changes ITF president Dave Haggerty floated in February.

Some of the intrigue in terms of nominations and lineups has gone, with the change to a five-man roster.

But the surprise after the draw ceremonies Thursday is that Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t played since the Australian Open, is on tap to play No. 1 singles Friday in Valencia against Germany. That’s best-of-five, on clay.

Here are the details on the four World Group quarterfinals going on over the next three days.

[1] France 3, [8] Italy 1 (final)

Venue: Valletta Cambiaso ASD, Genoa, Italy
Surface: Clay – Red Clay, Outdoor
Ball: Dunlop Fort Clay Court

Nominations:

France: Lucas Pouille, Adrian Mannarino, Nicholas Mahut, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Jérémy Chardy.

Italy: Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi, Andreas Seppi, Matteo Berrettini, Simone Bolelli.

Missing: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet, Gilles Simon (FRA).

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Lucas Pouille (FRA) def #2 Andreas Seppi (ITA) 63 62 46 36 61
#1 Fabio Fognini (ITA) def. #2 Jérémy Chardy (FRA) 67 (6) 62 62 63

Saturday final results

Pierre-Hugues Herbert / Nicolas Mahut (FRA) def Simone Bolelli / Paolo Lorenzi Fabio Fognini (ITA) 64 63 61

Sunday final results

#1 Lucas Pouille (FRA) def #1 Fabio Fognini (ITA) 26 61 76 (3) 63
#2 Andreas Seppi (ITA) vs. #2 Jérémy Chardy (FRA) – not played

*********************************************

Spain 3, Germany 2 (complete)

Venue: Plaza de Toros de Valencia, Valencia, Spain
Surface: Red Clay, Outdoor
Ball:Head Davis Cup

Nominations:

Spain: Rafael Nadal, Roberto Bautista Agut, Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, Marc Lopez

Germany: Alexander Zverev, Philipp Kohlschreiber, Jan-Lennard Struff, Maximilian Marterer, Tim Puetz

Missing: Albert Ramos-Viñolas, Pablo Carreño Busta (late scratch) (ESP). Mischa Zverev, Peter Gojowczyk (GER).

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Alexander Zverev (GER) def #2 David Ferrer (ESP) 64 62 62
#1 Rafael Nadal (ESP) def #2 Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) 62 62 63

Saturday final results

Tim Puetz / Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) def Feliciano Lopez / Marc Lopez (ESP) 63 63 36 67 (4) 75 

Sunday results

#1 Rafael Nadal (ESP) def #1 Alexander Zverev (GER) 61 64 64
#2 David Ferrer (ESP) def #2 Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)  76 (1) 36 76 (4) 46 75

*********************************************

[4] Croatia 3, Kazakhstan 1 (final)

Venue: Varazdin Arena, Varazdin, Croatia
Surface: Clay – Red Clay, Indoor
Ball: Dunlop Fort Clay Court

Nominations:

Croatia: Marin Cilic, Borna Coric, Viktor Galovic, Ivan Dodig, Nikola Mektic

Kazakhstan: Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Dmitry Popko, Denis Yevseyev, Timur Khabibulin

Missing: Ivo Karlovic (CRO)

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 Marin Cilic (CRO) def. #2 Dmitry Popko (KAZ) 62 61 62
#1 Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) def #2 Borna Coric (CRO) 36 76 (5) 64 62

Saturday final results

Ivan Dodig / Nikola Mektic (CRO) def Aleksandr Nedovyesov / Timur Khabibulin (KAZ) 67 (2) 64 64 62

Sunday results

#1 Marin Cilic (CRO) def #1 Mikhail Kukushkin (KAZ) 61 61 61
#2 Borna Coric (CRO) vs. #2 Dmitry Popko (KAZ)

*********************************************

USA 4, [2] Belgium 0 (complete)

Venue: Curb Event Center, Nashville, USA
Surface: Hard – Premier, Indoor
Court Pace Rating: Medium
Ball: Wilson US Open Extra Duty

Nominations:

USA: John Isner, Sam Querrey, Jack Sock, Steve Johnson, Ryan Harrison

Belgium: Rubel Bemelmans, Joris de Loore, Sander Gille, Joran Vliegen

Missing: David Goffin, Steve Darcis (BEL). Bob and Mike Bryan (USA)   

quarterfinal

Friday final results

#1 John Isner (USA) def #2 Joris de Loore (BEL) 63 67 (4) 76 (8) 64
#2 Sam Querrey (USA) def #1 Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) 61 76 (5) 75

Saturday final results

Ryan Harrison / Jack Sock (USA) def. Sander Gille / Joran Vliegen (BEL) 57 76 (1) 76 (3) 64

Sunday final results

#1 John Isner (USA) Ryan Harrison (USA) def  #1 Ruben Bemelmans (BEL) 63 64 (Dead rubber)
#2 Sam Querrey (USA) vs. #2 Joris de Loore (BEL) (not played)

Zonal action around the globe

There also are second-round ties in the Americas, Europe/Africa and Asia/Oceania zonal groups.

Among the ones to watch are Argentina vs. Chile (they don’t like each other too much in the sporting sphere). Austria v Russia, and the Czech Republic vs. Sweden feature two former Davis Cup powerhouses, now relegated to the zonals and trying to climb back up.

There are Group II ties as well in those regions. Group III round-robin ties in Asia/Oceania and Europe are also going on all this week.

Rafael Nadal returns for Davis Cup

MIAMI, Fla. – Great news for tennis – and Spanish tennis – as Rafael Nadal will be back in action in 10 days.

Nadal, who will become the No. 1-ranked player in the world again on Monday after Roger Federer’s early exit in Miami, has been named to the Spanish Davis Cup squad that will face Germany April 6-8.

The tie will be held on clay, in Valencia.

Captain Sergi Bruguera will call upon Nadal,  Pablo Carreño Busta, Roberto Bautista Agut, David Ferrer and Feliciano Lopez in the five-man format now in vogue.

Despite the expansion of the roster, none are considered doubles specialists although Lopez and, to a certain extent, Carreño Busta, have had success.

Given the best-of-five format, it’s entirely possible that Nadal may only play doubles. He hasn’t played since retiring at the Australian Open in the fifth set of his quarterfinal against Marin Cilic.

So, it will have been nearly three months since he has played a match.

Powerhouse Spanish Davis Cup squad

Nadal hasn’t competed in Davis Cup since a playoff tie against India in Sept. 2016.

In that tie, he played only doubles, teaming up with his lifelong friend Marc Lopez. But of course, they didn’t really need him. Bruguera did not name Lopez to the squad this time.

All five Spanish players nominated are currently ranked in the top 35 in singles. Notably, the average age is 32 years three months. Ferrer turns 36 on Monday and Bautista Agut turns 30 in two weeks.

At 26, Carreño Busta brings that average down big-time.

Germany will bring Alexander Zverev (but not his brother Mischa), Philipp Kohlschreiber, Jan-Lennard Struff, Maximilian Marterer and Tim (Golden Set) Puetz.

Other nominations

In another quarterfinal (the winner will play the winner of Spain vs. Germany), France will travel to Genoa to meet the Italians.

Notably, not a single member of the new “Quatre Mousquetaires” generation – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Gaël Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Gilles Simon – is on the squad. And still, you give them a very good chance to win.

France: Lucas Pouille, Adrian Mannarino, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Jérémy Chardy, Nicolas Mahut

Italy: Fabio Fognini, Paolo Lorenzi, Andreas Seppi, Matteo Berrettini, Simone Bolelli

The other half of the World Group draw has Croatia vs. Kazakhstan. And that one looks like a bit of a mismatch unless one of the top two Croatians begs off after Miami.

Croatia, with home court, will bring Marin Cilic and Borna Coric. Coric is still alive at the Miami Open. But John Isner eliminated Cilic in the fourth round by John Isner Tuesday. Joining them are Ivan Dodig, Viktor Galovic and Nikola Mektic.

Kazakhstan will have Mikhail Kukushkin, Aleksandr Nedovyesov, Dmitry Popko, Denis Yevtseyev and Timur Khabibulin.

Americans heavy favorites

The final quarterfinal has the US hosting Belgium in Nashville.

Davis
Without David Goffin, the 2017 Davis Cup finalists will be up against it.

And without top-10 player David Goffin, who begged off early after the freak incident in which he was hit in the eye by a tennis ball in the Rotterdam semifinals, the Belgians (former finalists) will have a tough time.

They’ll be led by veteran lefty Ruben Bemelmans. Joris de Loore, Joran Vliegen and Sander Gille (who just qualified at a Challenger in Guadeloupe) will join him. The Belgians don’t even have a fifth player.

The US team will have Jack Sock, John Isner, Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison and Steve Johnson. All are ranked in the top 55. Jared Donaldson is actually higher-ranked than Harrison or Johnson. But those two have had much more success in doubles.

The players starting to think about ensuring their eligibility for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. So we might well start seeing the big guns show up to represent their country.

Nadal returns to Queen’s Club

Rafael Nadal’s relationship with the Queen’s Club tournament has been, well, full of twists and turns.

And now, for 2018, he’s back.

Nadal played the grass-court event, which formerly took place two weeks before Wimbledon and now is three weeks before, five times in the six years between 2006 and 2011. Coincidence or not, he reached the Wimbledon final each time he played it.

After losing to Robin Soderling early at the French Open in 2009, he pulled out of the entire grass-court season because of his knee issues and so, missed that edition.

At Queen’s Club, he made the quarterfinals four times. But in 2008, he won it beating Andy Roddick in the semifinals and Novak Djokovic in the final. A few weeks later, he won his first Wimbledon title in that epic day-night encounter against Roger Federer.

Two years later, after losing to Feliciano Lopez in the quarters at Queen’s Club, he won Wimbledon again.

Every year, there was an iconic photo on the London club’s lawns on the Tuesday after the French Open final. After taking one day off, Nadal would immediately hit the grass at Queen’s Club to work on the grass transition, no matter how tired he might have been from the fortnight in Paris. 

But then … the money gremlins kicked in.

Too much taxation sends Nadal to Germany

By 2011, Nadal had eschewed his traditional (and very successful) preparation as he railed against the system that taxed athletes in Great Britain. It was a system that also went after their endorsement income. And after all those years, Nadal had enough.

He decamped for the competing tournament in Halle, Germany that already had a longstanding deal with his rival Roger Federer – not incidentally, for the not-insignificant appearance fee of about $1 million and a two-year commitment. Although he said the cash played no part in his decision.

His Wimbledon record since then doesn’t have the same luster. And his fate in Halle seemed rather star-crossed.

Nadal lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany in his second match at Halle in 2012, playing despite knee issues.

In 2013, he didn’t play it, pointing to the physical grind of the clay-court season. He lost in the first round of Wimbledon to Steve Darcis.

In 2014, making good on the missing year, he lost to another German, Dustin Brown, in his first match of the tournament.

In 2015, the taxation situation having been relaxed somewhat, he returned to Queen’s to try to recapture that Queen’s-Wimbledon karma. But he lost in the first round to Alexandr Dolgopolov, and in the second round of Wimbledon to Brown.

In 2016, he skipped the grass-court season entirely after injuring his left wrist in Paris. He returned despite not being 100 per cent physically only for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Last summer, he didn’t play any tuneup events. The long, successful clay-court season culminated in Nadal’s 10th French Open title, and he needed some down time. He lost narrowly, 15-13 in the fifth set, to Gilles Muller in the round of 16 at Wimbledon.

Getting that Queen’s Club karma back

Queen's
Nadal made his first visit to Queen’s Club in 2006 (when it was the Stella Artois). It was very good to him in his early years.

Is Nadal a superstitious sort? You could make that argument, given his rituals.

In his early career, the Queen’s Club – Wimbledon double clearly was extremely successful for him.

To tally it up: Nadal made the Wimbledon final the first five times he played Queen’s Club. Since the taxation issue chased him off, his sum total at Wimbledon has been two fourth rounds, two second rounds and a first round.  

With this return, perhaps he’s trying to put all the karma on his side.

(And yes, no doubt there was a pretty big cheque attached as well).

Three weeks expected absence for Nadal

MELBOURNE, Australia – In the wake of Rafael Nadal’s retirement in the fifth set of his Australian Open quarter-final match Tuesday night, the world No. 1 had an MRI in Melbourne Wednesday.

The diagnosis is a Grade 1 strain of the illiopsoas muscle on his right leg.

He’ll return to Spain and after a few days’ rest. After that, he will start on anti-inflammatories, according to his PR representative Benito Perez-Barbadillo.

Nadal will start rehabbing and getting back on court gradually in two weeks. Perez-Barbadillo stated the normal recovery time for this type of injury is three weeks.

And he expects Nadal’s planned schedule – Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami, all on hard courts – won’t be affected.

A Grade 1 strain is at the bottom of the seriousness scale. Nadal was clearly in a lot of pain Tuesday night, when it first occurred.

Per that reliable medical resource Wikipedia, The iliopsoas is formed when the Iliacus and psoas muscles, separate in the abdomen, merge in the thigh area.