No surprise, Nadal out of Basel

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The tape that appeared below Rafael Nadal’s right knee for the final in Shanghai against Roger Federer was the first clue.

And from the reports afterward, especially in terms of Nadal’s ability to bend the  knee, it was clear that after a lot of hard-court tennis during the late summer and fall, the world No. 1 was hurting.

So it was no surprise that Nadal announced Tuesday that he was pulling out of his next scheduled event in Federer’s hometown of Basel, Switzerland next week because of an excessive stress load on his knee.

“I sadly announce that I have to pull out of the Swiss Indoors Basel, after seeing my doctor in Spain just after landing from Shanghai,” Nadal wrote on Facebook. 

“I am suffering from an over-stressing of the knee and the problems where already present at the tournament in Shanghai, which now forces me to take a time off on advice of my doctor,” he added. “After two great weeks in China, with the title in Beijing and the final in Shanghai it is time for some rest.”

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There probably wasn’t much Nadal could do against Federer in Shanghai on Sunday, as well as the Swiss was playing. But he would have needed all his mobility, and he didn’t have it. (TennisTV.com)

Nadal still has the final Masters 1000 tournament of the season in Paris on his schedule, as well as the ATP Tour Finals in London to finish off the season.

Both also are on hard-court. Both are gruelling events at which he needs to be in top form.

Federer has a slight chance to catch Nadal to finish the season in the No. 1 spot. But it’s not a great chance.

Decision on Nadal defamation suit Nov. 16

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Rafael Nadal asked French television presenter Roselyne Bachelot for 100,000 Euros in a defamation suit filed in France last year, and finally heard on Friday.

Bachelot’s lawyer offered a “symbolic Euro” to Nadal, if the court rules against his client.

There have been numerous stories about Nadal in the media over the years, numerous inflammatory quotes and thinly veiled accusations.

But the words from France’s former French sports minister some 18 months ago were the straw that broke Nadal’s back – so to speak. 

He filed the suit in April, 2016, after Bachelot’s comments a few week prior on a French television show. Bachelot stated that Nadal’s long-term absence because of a knee issue in 2012 was “probably because of a positive doping test.”

“When you see a tennis player stopping for months, it’s because he has tested positive. Not every time, but very often,” she added.

In context, this came the day after Maria Sharapova announced at a Los Angeles press conference that she had tested positive for meldonium. Sharapova served a 15-month suspension and returned last April.

Nadal was irate when he first talked about Bachelot’s comments at Indian Wells.

A few weeks later, he filed suit.

His statement at the time said this:

“Through this case, I intend not only to defend my integrity and my image as an athlete but also the values I have defended all my career. I also wish to avoid any public figure from making insulting or false allegations against an athlete using the media, without any evidence or foundation, and to go unpunished.”

Nadal’s medical records provided

The case was originally scheduled to be heard in July. But a court backlog postponed it to Friday. It was heard at the Tribunal correctionnel de Paris.

Neither Nadal (who is playing the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai) nor Bachelot was present.

According to Le Parisien, Nadal lawyer Patrick Maisonneuve said Bachelot’s comments “could have had major consequences”, notably concerning current or future sponsors. He said, “Nadal asked me to put an end, once and for all, to what Mrs. Bachelot said by providing his medical records,.”

Maisonneuve said the files indicated a very serious issue with his his client’s knee tendon.

“Startingly lax”

For his part, Bachelot lawyer Olivier Chappuis put the International Tennis Federation on trial, per Le Parisien. He contended the ITF’s anti-doping program “has always been startlingly lax” with an entrenched culture of “concealing positive tests.” 

To shore up Bachelot’s “good-faith” contention, Chappuis said his client had based her opinion on statements made in the media by former players Christophe Rochus and Daniel Köllerer

“There is an enormous gap between his string of successes and the weakness of the anti-doping testing,” Chappuis added. “What sponsors abandoned Rafael Nadal following these statements? None.”

The court reserved judgment on Friday.

A decision is expected Nov. 16.

When he filed the suit, Nadal said that any damages awarded would go to a charitable endeavor in France.

Beijing weekend – Kyrgios’ best and worst

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When Nick Kyrgios met Alexander Zverev Saturday in the China Open semifinals, he was devastating.

It was the fourth meeting between the young guns this season. And Kyrgios has now won three of them.

Not only was his tennis world-class, the Aussie got inside Zverev’s head so comprehensively in the 6-3, 7-5 win that it was the younger, higher-ranked German who was on racket-snapping detail.

Kyrgios sang along to the stadium soundtrack on the set break. And he came out in the first game and hit two ridiculous volleys on the first point. Then, he pulled a Roger Federer-like SABR (although with a two-handed backhand) on the second point that got the crowd into it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point.

Zverev lost his cool a few times in the face of Kyrgios’s shotmaking in the Beijing semifinals Saturday. (TennisTV.com)

Later, after a brilliant 31-shot rally, he beat Zverev with a deft and well-conceived shot that was within the German’s reach at the net. But it dipped so dramatically right in front of him that he couldn’t handle it.

Which unnerved Zverev enough that he double-faulted on the next point, coughed up the break of serve and then went rogue on his tennis racket.

What a difference a day makes

The victory put Kyrgios in the final against Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated in their last meeting, on a hard court in Cincinnati in August.

But when Kyrgios came out on Sunday, he wasn’t the same fellow.

Mainly, his serve wasn’t the same. And that likely was the main source of his tennis frustration. His first delivery landed at a 70 per cent clip against Zverev. Against Nadal, he couldn’t break 50 per cent.

And he was cranky, getting into it with umpire Mohamed Lahyani from the get-go on some dodgy line calls. There was no getting him out of his funk.

Alexander Zverev really didn’t quite know what hit him at times during his loss to Nick Kyrgios in the Beijing semifinals. (TennisTV.com)

The SABR didn’t work. He got a couple of challenges wrong. At one point, when Nadal was ready to serve (and we know how long that takes), Kyrgios was still giving Lahyani lip and the world No. 1 had to back off.

There were some ill-advised serve-volley plays on second serves. And unlike much of the week, Kyrgios played speed-dating on his service games, barely waiting for one point to finish before he was ready to begin the next.

Mohamed Lahyani was on the receiving end of some abuse from Kyrgios during the Beijing final. It was unreasonable enough that the friendly umpire assessed a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. (TennisTV.com)

On the changeover at 2-5, Lahyani assessed a point penalty, so as he served to stay in the set, he was down love-15 before he stepped to the line.

Two double-faults at 30-all, and the set was over. And the match; Kyrgios earned just one more game as Nadal won 6-2, 6-1 to win his 75th career title.

In a little more than 24 hours, the space of a short weekend, the best and the worst of Kyrgios were on display.

In other words, not an atypical Kyrgios weekend.

“He played well. I played terrible. He’s in great form. He just destroyed me today, so it was too good,” Kyrgios told the media in Beijing. “I put in a pretty good week, had some good wins. It’s tough to find positives when you won three games in the final. But I guess there were positives. In the semi-final I played well, obviously beating Alex (Zverev).”

When it was good, it was GOOD

It was a shame. Because when the tennis was at forefront of this Beijing final, it was breathtaking. But after four wins during the week, the Aussie had turned the page on Beijing.

It wasn’t as though the crowd didn’t get its money’s worth. The women’s final preceded the men Sunday night. As well, despite the lopsided score and the lightning round on serve, the match still took an hour and 32 minutes – 15 minutes longer than the much tighter contest against Zverev.

With two opponents Sunday – Nadal, and himself – Kyrgios was unable to repeat the impressive level he displayed in his semifinal win over Alexander Zverev. (TennisTV.com)

Kyrgios will drop a couple of spots in the rankings – he’ll be just out of the top 20 Monday. The Aussie won the tournament in Tokyo a year ago and so failed to defend 200 of the 500 points he earned.

Still alive for London

Meanwhile, Kyrgios moved up – five spots – in the race to the ATP Tour finals in London. He stands 15th;  in reality, he’s 12th with the idle Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray ahead of him. With two Masters 1000 series tournaments to come, he’s far from out of contention.

And he’ll get right back at it in Shanghai, with a tough first-round match against Steve Johnson in singles, but slotted into a good section of the draw.

With only second-round points to defend and the difference between No. 21 and No. 13 only 400 points right now, it’s an opportunity. He’s also playing doubles with Lucas Pouille.

The Kyrgios road show rages on, coming to a tennis stadium near you.

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

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Pretty much everything Roger Federer touches turns to gold.

So why anyone would have any doubt that the first edition of the Laver Cup would be anything but a smash?

It was, on every level, a huge success. Sellout crowds, high-quality tennis, plenty of drama and emotion, a bulletproof format … and Roger and Rafa.

It was a such a perfect storm that even the absence of many top players turned out to be a plus.

Team World (Team America, really) ended up a young squad of millennials – both real and throwback. They decided to have their own private party in front of 14,000 people inside the O2 Arena, and millions more around the world.

“They had the better chants and the better moves, but in the end, Team Europe got it done,” said Laver Cup maestro Roger Federer, who pretty much notices everything and has a uniquely passive-aggressive way of letting you know.

Team World wins the “Team Fun” award

inauguralOutmatched on the court for the most part, Team World won the fun contest

The contrast between Team World and Team Europe couldn’t have been more stark.

Obviously most of the older players were on Team Europe. At times during the weekend you almost got the sense they were exchanging stock tips while Team World recreated The Floor is Lava, this summer’s trending challenge on YouTube.

Just keeping track of Frances Tiafoe’s ever-changing head gear was a trending challenge in itself. Veterans John Isner and Sam Querrey were young again. And green rookie Denis Shapovalov got more corrupted by the day. He may never be the same.

But by the very end, the last 20 minutes of the Roger Federer match, Team World stepped it up – led by an emotional and demonstrative Rafael Nadal.

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Yes, Nadal actually did this in the heat of the Sunday drama. He got a little excited.

Superb staging

The “black” court turned out to play dark gray on television. And it immediately became a visual that will always be associated exclusively with the Laver Cup. 

The ball stood out on the stark backdrop for television viewers. But the blue and red lighting around the court and in the stands prevented it from being too drab.

As well, the stark white of the high-end sponsors also stood out. Don’t think that wasn’t a huge factor as well.

They really did think of everything. One complaint fans often have when watching tennis on television is that the radar gun that measures the serves is hard to find, and often hard to see. In this setup, the numbers were big and bright and always easy to find.

inaugural

The stage where the rest of the teammates cheered was also perfectly set up. The fans could access both teams during changeovers (and even during the matches) for autographs. But if the players wanted to leave the court – especially the losers – they could do so in a straight line towards the locker room. If they didn’t want to deal with the autograph seekers, they didn’t have to.

At the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore and to a large extent at the ATP Tour Finals in London, the fans are often in the dark as the court is lit up. It makes for a bit of an isolated atmosphere although it does hide any empty seats. At the Laver Cup, the stands were lit in a way that fit in perfectly with the court. But it also allowed you to see the fans.

It was pitch-perfect. It almost didn’t even look real.

inaugural

 

Next-Gen graphics, camera angles

A company based in Sydney, Australia and Los Angeles called Girraphic was the mastermind behind the graphics, which were unlike most of what you see all season long.

They were spectacular, especially the ones superimposed on the net. 

Great variety of camera angles

The camera angles were also varied. The baseline cam (affectionately referred to as the “butt cam” because they often close in on the derrière of the player returning serve) has been used before. But rarely this often.

They also had an improved version of the net cam; Bob Feller, the legendary ESPN tennis producer, says, “stay tuned”.

Federer annihilated it at one stage, which was amusing. They had a fish-eye lens at the net that showed the entire court in a new way. There were slow-motion replays of emotional moments and Team Fun routines. It was frantic, but it didn’t feel that way.

Having the coaches on court – and the players playing coaches as well – made for far more interesting cutaways than you’ll see at a regular tournament. There, the endless go-tos are countless shots of Mirka Federer biting her lip, or Jelena Djokovic looking like she might lose her stuff at any moment, get old quickly.

They had to dim the microphones at times, given some of the cussing by Team World. (There were no such issues for Team Europe; captain Bjorn Borg said more during his trophy ceremony speech than he said on court for three days).

Trying too hard

For whatever reason, the braintrust behind the Laver Cup decided that the word “exhibition” was a bad word.

It was clear that a talking point went out to everyone to emphasize that it wasn’t an exhibition. That it didn’t feel like an exhibition. And that it meant something to these guys. They were devoted in their dedication to bringing home the Laver cup to their (country? continent? world section?). And that it meant the world to them.

The thing is, why is the word “exhibition” by definition a bad word?

That’s exactly what this was. Perhaps out of this, a new category somewhere between tournament and exhibition called “special event” may be created.

But they tried so hard. Way too hard.

It’s worth remembering that every single person trying to convince you the Laver Cup “wasn’t an exhibition” had a financial stake in the event. The players received a ton of money up front (and an additional $250,000 each for winning). Federer’s management company, Team 8, for which he is the biggest earner, made a major investment.

Everyone from the chair umpire to the all-star cast of commentators and analysts took home a nice additional paycheque for their participation. It was to the point where the commentators were making excuses for some salty language on Team World’s side with platitudes like “It just absolutely shows how much these guys want to win for Europe and the world.”

Actually, it just showed that they use profanity. As many of us do on a tennis court. As they do during the regular Tour events as well. But they’re not used to being amongst a gaggle of buddies on a tennis court with the microphones on.

Giving the players (and captain) such a pass would only happen in an exhibition. In many ways, the vibe on that level was much as it was for that first, money-heavy season of IPTL. Which was, of course, much derided as “merely an exhibition.”

Format on point

The very nature of the team format was going to make for great competition.

In a standard exhibition, where two top players fly in and out of a city for a one-nighter, they’re playing for themselves and the crowd. 

Regardless of the circumstances, if you play against two of the greatest of all time, you’re going to go all out. And if you are one of the greatest of all time, you didn’t get there by not taking it seriously every time you step on the court.

The place was packed. Everyone had fun. Everyone came out a winner. The fans loved it. Everyone made lots of money.

There is no downside, and little need to preach semantics.

The stated intention to honour the champions of the past in naming the event after Rod Laver, and having Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as captains (neatly dovetailing with the opening of the movie based on their rivalry) put a nice, sincere veneer on what is very much a money-making enterprise.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

What’s ahead

The pitch-perfect execution of the inaugural edition is a double-edged sword, in a sense.

Not that this is a bad problem to have.

But it’s going to be awfully hard to duplicate – for so many reasons.

First of all, the event is going to move around. Next year, at the same time, it will take place at the United Center in Chicago.

We know this, because the Laver Cup already had a video message ready from the mayor of the city, and they had a press conference in Chicago just after noon.

The well-heeled crowd in Prague was enthusiastic but extremely civilized. It was only in the waning moments that they began to do those things the diehard fans hate, like cheering for missed first serves.

The crowd in Chicago will be quite different.

The makeup of “Team World” also will be quite different.

What a perfect world it would be if this year’s cast were playing “at home” in Chicago. Their act would play even better. And imagine, conversely, that players such as Nishikori, Murray, Raonic, Anderson and del Potro had been on “Team World” instead of Shapovalov, Kyrgios, Tiafoe, Isner and Sock.

Team Fun probably a one-off

The atmosphere would have been completely different – not nearly as lively. And John McEnroe, as captain, wouldn’t have had nearly the same positive impact. That’s going to be impossible to recreate next year.

What if, next year, Federer and Nadal aren’t blessed with the same health and good form they’ve enjoyed this year, their renaissance year? It’s inarguable that these two are definitely on a year-to-year basis, at this stage.

Without them, it’s not the same event. It’s arguably barely a top-flight event, despite the illustrious resumés of the other player options. In the special-event solar system, star power counts exponentially.

It’s also worth noting here that Djokovic, Murray and Nishikori had not committed to the Laver Cup before their injury woes. Will that change now that they’ve seen it work so amazingly well? It might. It might not.

Federer and Nadal transcend borders. The others, not nearly to the same extent. You know Federer is committed as long as he’s healthy, given his business ties. Countryman Stan Wawrinka likely would do him a solid. But did Nadal just do a one-off favour for his frenemy? We’ll find out.

They should also consider shortening the time between matches. It could run a half hour or more. We realize the need to sell merchandise and adult beverages. But with only one match to talk about, the commentators had a tough time filling. And it’s easy to lose your audience these days.

Collateral effects

Overtly or not, this event has been positioned as a potential alternative format to the century-old Davis Cup competition. That’s partly because of the weekend team format. And it’s also because of the fact that Nadal and Federer played it while skipping representing their country this year.

No doubt there are plenty of secret board meetings over at ITF headquarters. And the drama is made even more real by the fact that the USTA and Tennis Australia – two federations that run Grand Slam tournaments under the ITF umbrella – are involved in a major way. At the very least, the huge money the players were paid just to show up dwarfs the relative pittance they earn for representing their country – with far fewer weeks’ commitment.

But the effects go beyond that, right to the heart of the Tour that made all these players rich and famous.

There were two 250-level ATP Tour events the week of the Laver Cup – Metz and St. Petersburg, Russia. There are two 250-level events in faraway China this week that brush up against the end of the event, Shenzhen and Chengdu.

Stars needed at the 250s

It’s no secret that the 250-level tournaments are struggling to varying degrees. The only way they can make a good go of it is if they can attract a big name to play in the event. That draws the fans; more crucially, it also draws corporate sponsorship.

Metz and St. Petersburg were out of luck. (There was a story reporting that Djokovic had committed to the St. Petersburg tournament before he shut down his season). Tomas Berdych, who would have been the No. 3 seed in Shenzhen, pulled out before the event began. (Why he even entered it, knowing as far back as February when he was doing Laver Cup promotion in Prague with Federer that he’d likely play, is a question for him).

Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in Orléans this week. With his subsequent rise, he obviously was a big drawing card. He pulled out late in the game.

Tiafoe also withdrew from Shenzhen. He’s a crowd-pleaser. But it also cost him a chance to earn some ranking points which, at this stage of his career, he still needs. Denis Shapovalov had committed to a big Challenger in France this week. He only played on the Laver Cup’s opening day; he pulled out of Orléans that very day. That’s late in the game.

Tired, jet-lagged top seeds

Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, the No. 1 seeds in Shenzhen and Chengdu, respectively, remain on board so far. But they’ll arrive in Asia very late, after a very long trip. And they’ve both signed on for doubles, as well.

Alexander Zverev is the top seed in Shenzhen this week, and was likely well-paid for it. He’ll arrive pretty drained, and jet-lagged, with little rest of prep time to face Steve Darcis in the second round.

They’ll be jet-lagged – and perhaps even a little hungover from the post-victory celebrations. They won’t have given themselves the best chance to win. That does them a disservice. And it also hurts the tournaments that no doubt paid them handsome appearance fees, as top-10 players, to show up.

And who knows if any other Laver Cup participants might have considered playing?

In the end, the Laver Cup seems to be here to stay. As well it should; it was all kinds of fun and, no doubt, quite profitable for all.

It’s only an exhibition. But it combines the best elements of everything tennis has to offer right now. It needs to stay.

What remains to be worked out is how it best can fit into the overall tennis landscape. Because it needs to fit. The alphabet soup of competing tennis factions all need to figure out a way to make that happen.

(All screenshots used for this post came from the Laver Cup’s livestream)

The future of Fedal – is there one?

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Now it can be told.

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal weren’t really looking forward to playing doubles together.

That much was obvious after they pulled out a narrow victory over Sam Querrey and Jack Sock Saturday.

They looked as relieved as they were happy. From their lofty perch in tennis history, they had more to lose than to gain.

And after Roger Federer pulled off the comeback win over Nick Kyrgios Sunday that decided the Laver Cup in Team Europe’s favor, they both alluded to it.

“I was ready to go. I had to be. That’s what a team member does. We knew it could change very quickly on Sunday. I was looking at getting ready for maybe a doubles at the very end here. So I’m very pleased and relieved that we got it done,” Federer said.

Nadal’s sentiments were similar.

“Of course if the captain want me there, I was ready – I didn’t want to play, but I was ready,” Nadal said. “But thanks to Roger, and the rest of the team, that we avoided that very tough situation.”

The idea of Federer and Nadal playing doubles together is a subject that comes up every so often in the media. But it had not come up between them for many years.

The idea was better than the actual reality. Although for nearly everyone who saw it, the idea was more than enough.

Seeing two of the greatest players of all time interacting for an extended period as the fans of both rarely see them do superseded any of the tennis actually played.

“It kind of felt like going into the Laver Cup, that’s what everyone wanted to see, and talked about as well. Now that it happened I think we’ll have some great footage, some great photos,” Federer said. “The two of us getting together. Our both fan groups having to get together. I think that’s slightly interesting as well.”

In reality, they don’t mesh that well. Their styles are so different. And it’s tough to play with someone you haven’t played with before – just look at the lack of chemistry between Nadal and Berdych.

There was no great debate on who would play which side, even though the tactical discussion made for a unique, if slightly stilted video. Federer said he plays the deuce side more often, Nadal said he plays both. Federer loved the idea of Nadal’s forehand on the ad side (even if their relatively weaker backhands are down the middle, which is the most crucial part of the doubles court.

But you could see that Federer made a lot of adjustments to acquiesce to what Nadal prefers on a doubles court. For example, he stayed back on both the first and second serves when Nadal was returning. 

They knew it would please the fans, of course. Which is probably a big reason why they did it. But these are two of the best players in history. They have egos. They don’t want to combine forces on the court and … lose.

“We only ever practiced once together, back at the World Tour Finals. We don’t practice a lot. We don’t show stuff to each other a lot. We’ll always forever be rivals as long as we’re active. And after this we’ll be rivals again. But this was something really special,” Federer said. “It’s been an absolutely pleasure sharing the court with Rafa on the same side of the net. Knowing you can trust him in the big moments, seeing his decision making, seeing his thought process, was very interesting.

“I knew the people, maybe the ones who don’t follow tennis all the time, they would not understand if we lost. I understand that people only expect a win from us. But it’s so complicated. We’re playing indoors against great doubles players, against big servers,” Federer added.

Fedal
Federer cracks up as Nadal gets tagged at the net during their doubles match at the Laver Cup Saturday (Screenshot: LaverCup.com)

That a pairing like Querrey and Sock – who have played together exactly once, back in 2012 in San Jose – would worry them to that extent is meaningful.

Different worlds, different people

The two are not besties. They come from different countries, different cultures. They hang out with their own people. And for much of their careers they have been fierce rivals.

They’ve known each other forever. They’re friendly, of course. Probably as friendly as anyone could be considering their professional circumstances. They have great respect for one another. 

But there’s a reason they have not ever teamed up on Tour, despite plenty of opportunities.

Federer hasn’t played much doubles in recent years. But before that, the two tended to play  for the very same reason, at the same tournaments. Most often it was when the ATP Tour changed surfaces – from indoors to Indian Wells, from the Wimbledon grass to the summer hard-court season in Canada. They had plenty of chances, but the never took advantage in all the years they’ve been out there.

Nadal sort of seems keener than Federer on the whole concept, doesn’t he?

If they save their cooperative efforts for a once-a-year reunion at the Laver Cup, that’s just fine. The scarcity of it makes it all the more anticipated.

And it’s good for business, too.

Spanish Davis/Fed Cup captain fired

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After rough sailing the last few years, these were supposed to be new and calmer seas for the suits at the Spanish Tennis Federation.

Instead, its first big move was to fire former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. Twice.

The RFET relieved Martinez of her duties as Davis Cup captain and Fed Cup captain Thursday. It was one of those “We love you, really, but we’re still breaking up with you” announcements.

“At the meeting held this morning in Barcelona, ​​the members of the Board unanimously agreed to a change in the direction of our professional teams, highlighting the great work Conchita Martínez has done during these years at the head of our most emblematic tennis teams,” the federation’s statement said.

The board said Martinez “has done a great job. ” But ….. “we have decided to make a change, by general consensus, as we face new challenges in 2018.”

They said it will announce new captains “in the coming days”.

That probably means they already know who they are.

Martinez
Captain Martinez hugs Muguruza after a win over Serbia in February, 2016.

Typically, in these types of circumstances (note how many players and coaches, when they part ways, always do soand by “mutual agreement), the former captain will play ball.

He or she will talk about how it was a great experience. And they’ll speak warmly about how much they appreciated the opportunity, bla bla bla.

Martinez chose not do go that route. Instead, she’s being honest.

Here’s her statement (roughly translated from Spanish).

Disappointment and disrespect

“I want to share with you my disappointment and unease towards the RFET, which advised me late this afternoon that will not count on me for next season.

“It is very ungrateful, after you take over a ship in stormy seas and steer it towards calm and compromise, to be cast overboard. With the arrival of the new board, the situation was supposed to change. But it is more of the same; tennis still is not a priority,” Martinez wrote in her statement. “Given the complicated circumstances, I have accepted their decision. If the situation were different, I would not.”

Martinez wrote with the neglect she felt the last few months from the board, she pretty much figured her days were numbered. One big warning sign was when, for the first time in recent years, the new board of directors decided against her traveling to the Grand Slam events to meet face-to-face with the players on her players and keep track of their progress. 

This is something just about all Fed Cup and Davis Cup captains do, as a matter of routine.

“I’m proud to have been able to work with the best tennis players in the world. It hurts for the fans, with whom I share a love and passion for tennis, who have been there always supporting us in every match, on television, in the stands or with their messages through social networks,” she wrote. “My motivation and desire remain intact, just like my first day. I would have liked to continue, but the RFET’s decision is unilateral”

Martinez said that after all her contributions to Spanish tennis, she didn’t deserve to be fired in what considers such a disrespectful manner.

Can’t argue that.

New Fed – same as the old Fed

The Spanish Tennis Federation has been a dog’s breakfast in recent years. And its high-profile players refused to play ball.

Martinez
The Spanish Fed Cup team beat Italy a year ago, and proudly carried the flag.

When even Carlos Moyá couldn’t get them to commit to play Davis Cup, he resigned. Spain was crushed by Brazil in a playoff tie in Sept. 2014, and Roberto Bautista Agut was the only singles player ranked in the top 500 who committed to play. So the federation played its hand in a show of “executive power”.

It decided to unilaterally bring in a former WTA Tour player, Gala León Garcia, to become the new Davis Cup captain. Among the other names put forth at the time were people like Juan Carlos Ferrero, a former No. 1.

The power move backfired, big time.

The players objected to having someone they barely even knew (even in her previous administrative functions with the federation) forced upon them. And so León Garcia cried sexism. The top guns boycotted, and León Garcia went back underground as quick as she had emerged. She never captained a tie. And it further confirmed the players’ notion that they didn’t know her, she didn’t know them, and furthermore had little interest in even getting to know them.

That’s when Martinez came on board.

After that, federation president José Luis Escañuela and vice-president Olvido Aguilera got into some hot water over some alleged major financial irregularities including – most amusingly – some 12,000 Euros spent on candy.

Escañuela was suspended, then resigned. 

New president promises transparency

Martinez
The top Spanish players, Martinez, and the new federation president all look like one big happy family here, don’t they? (Photo: RFET)

The new president, Miguel Díaz Román, was elected a year later and promised change and transparency.

It wasn’t exactly a study of democracy in action, even if the voter turnout was nearly 97 per cent. The two other candidates withdrew just before the start of the meeting. The final tally was 123 votes for Díaz Román, 46 blank votes, and four spoiled ballots.

“We are going to unite tennis in Spain, we are going to work together to make the Spanish Tennis Federation a benchmark at the global level,” Díaz Román said upon being elected

Martinez
Former Fed Cup captain proudly poses with new Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza at the champions’ dinner this year. In the absence of Sam Sumyk, Martinez was a chill and supportive presence as Muguruza took her first steps towards becoming the WTA’s new No. 1

The first thing Díaz Román did was to shuffle León Garcia out of the federation completely. He promised to restore the federation to its former glory.

But barely a year after taking office, he presided over a move that cannot sit well with the new No. 1 in the WTA Tour rankings, Garbiñe Muguruza.

Muguruza called upon Martinez to take over the coaching when regular coach Sam Sumyk had to miss Wimbledon due to the birth of his first child.

She won the tournament. And it was clear that experience and chill of Martinez contributed greatly to that effort.

Davis Cup in disarray

As for Davis Cup, players like Roberto Bautista-Agut and Pablo Carreño Busta took part in 2017. But Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and others took a pass.

The next Davis Cup tie will take place right after the Australian Open in early February (the draw will be made next week in London).

It will be fascinating to see who will be captaining. And even more fascinating to see which players will play.

Spain currently has the world No. 1 male player in Nadal, and the world No. 1 female player in Muguruza. You can’t ask for more in terms of spreading the gospel of the game in your country.

It defies the imagination as to why they would want to rock the boat in such a major way, right.

Update

A piece in El Español posits a few candidates. And it indicates that ever since the French Open, the new board had decided Martinez was a (three-year) interim solution. But it wasn’t a long-term one. 

For the Davis Cup, it seems like the same old, same old (former male player with a Slam on his resumé). For the women, a couple of former players whose main success came in doubles are on the list. As well – and we wonder about their thinking here – the former (male) coach of one of the mainstays of the Fed Cup team, Carla Suárez Navarro. Former coach. There’s a reason. 

One interesting thing the board reportedly thought Martinez was lacking was “the ability to manage with a clear message to the group.” If that’s the case, the suits continue to fail to understand what the 21st century player is all about. And this is especially true on the men’s side, where the majority of the players are higher-ranked.

Those players play Davis Cup out of duty, not for the money. Because it’s an intrusion, in a sense, to the dynamics of their day job. The recent rash of injuries at the top of the game tell you most top players want to play less, not more.

The Davis Cup participants are not a team all season long. But when they show up, they give their all. They don’t need motivation – just making time for it in their schedule shows they’re plenty motivated. And they don’t need “a clear message”. They’re not children to be controlled.

Nadal makes no mistake in US Open win

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There was almost no chance Rafael Nadal was going to let this golden opportunity slip through his fingers.

And he didn’t.

The 31-year-old won the US Open men’s singles title Sunday, the 16th Grand Slam title of his illustrious career, in a routine 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 28 seed Kevin Anderson.

“Very happy, no? Been a great two weeks. Increasing level of tennis, increasing of confidence during that two weeks. Yeah, I have this trophy with me again here in New York. Means a lot to me, no? There is no better way to finish the Grand Slam season for me after a very emotional season in all aspects,” Nadal said.

“So very happy the way that I played, happy the way that I managed the pressure, and the way that I was competing during the whole event, no? Playing better or worse, the competitive spirit have been there in a very positive way all the time.”

The man from Mallorca finished off his old friend with a serve and winning backhand volley on match point. The aggressive move punctuated a tournament that began a little shakily, but steadily gathered steam until the end result was almost a formality.

Nadal
Nadal’s third US Open win, coming seven years after his second, is all the more sweet.

As Anderson pointed out in a most eloquent speech during the trophy ceremony, he and Nadal are almost exactly the same age. And yet he feels as though he’s been watching Nadal his entire life.

“Obviously very pleased of making my way through to the finals and having that experience. Few players, you know, get that chance. It’s very tough. To step out on court against Rafa tonight, you know, I learned a lot of lessons. It was a difficult match, up against somebody who has been on that stage over 20 times before,” Anderson said. “You know, definitely a few things I needed to have done better. Obviously I had my work cut out for me. But I think overall, obviously it’s been a very, very positive two weeks for me.”

The 6-foot-8 Anderson David to Nadal’s Goliath

The abyss in their professional accomplishments, Grand Slam experience and rankings made this a nearly impossible dream for Anderson. The South African fully deserved his spot in the final but would have had to overcome the highest mountain to take that final step into the history books.

Nadal
Nadal is not a small fellow. But he’s dwarfed by the 6-foot-8 South African.

Anderson’s biggest weapon – by far – is his serve. He was broken four times.

Every single service game in the first set felt like a struggle for the 6-foot-8 South African. And it only got slightly easier after that.

He had 10 aces. But Nadal’s back was to the wall – literally, not figuratively – for most of the day on the return.

It was as though he were saying, “You’re not going to get one past me. I’m going to chase every single serve down, no matter how hard you hit it, and make you do something else to beat me.”

But the biggest reason Anderson lost was that he couldn’t generate a single break point on Nadal’s serve.

In the end, Nadal won 45 points on Anderson’s serve, 42 per cent of the total despite regularly returning deliveries in the 130-mph range. Anderson won … 15 points on Nadal’s serve, just 21 per cent of the total points.

If he had trouble holding his own serve, and found it impossible to break Nadal’s serve, there was no feasible way he was going to turn it around.

“I don’t know if is him or me, is a combination of both things always, no? But I think I played the right match, the match that I have to play. I put a lot of balls in. I let him play all the time, and that was my goal, no? To try to have long rallies, to try to have long points, because he will try to play short (rallies),” Nadal said. “But of course if the ball is going over the net couple of times helps, because he gets more tired. He’s taller. His movements are a little bit worse than my ones. That was the goal for me, no, to take advantage and try to move him.”

Nadal’s final volley was emblematic of his day. He went 16-for-16 at the net.

Rafa loves New York

It’s somewhat counterintuitive that Nadal, the simple fellow from the small resort island in the Balearic Sea, absolutely loves New York.

But he does. He adores the crowds, the buzz the fans create, and no doubt lamented that he hadn’t managed to win more than two titles here.

Nadal
Nadal missed some opportunities in the first set. But his overall level – especially on return – was far superior to his game but overmatched opponent.

But there have been some formidable opponents in his way, players who are far more accomplished on the hard courts.

Roger Federer, of course. And Novak Djokovic. And even Andy Murray.

Nadal has played at Flushing Meadows 13 times in his career, missing it in 2012 and 2014 because of injury. Until Sunday, he had won it just twice. 

In 2010, he produced the most powerful serving fortnight he had ever had, before or since. After the first round, Nadal faced six consecutive opponents in the top 50 and only lost one set – to Novak Djokovic in the final.

In 2013, he faced five top-40 players and rolled over Novak Djokovic in the final, in four sets.

Until Sunday, Nadal hadn’t won any hard-court events in more than three years, until Sunday. He says that sounds worse than it actually was.

“Is true that I was not winning titles on hard for some time, but as I say the other day, is not that I was playing bad on hard. I played the final in Australia. I played the final in Acapulco, final in Miami. Ready to win titles. Didn’t happen, is true,” he said. “It happened today. So very happy for that, and the US Open is an amazing event. The energy that this city and this court brings to me is unbelievable, no? I feel very connected with them, and I enjoy the passion that I feel in that court.”

Opportunity knocked, and Nadal answered

This year, Nadal is having a renaissance season along with his old rival Federer. But still, his losses to 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov in Montreal and a brilliant Nick Kygios in Cincinnati were hardly the preparation worthy of a player who would the US Open just a few weeks later.

Nadal
Nadal stayed fairly cool throughout the final. And his calm, joyful reaction after the win reflected that.

But opportunity knocked.

The men’s field was decimated  this year: Djokovic, Murray, Kei Nishikori, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic were just a few of the missing. Federer came in underprepared and clearly physically hampered on some level. And with the draw top-heavy, Nadal had to know that if he got to the final – as he typically will do if you look at his success rate in Grand Slam semifinals – it was his to lose.

Nadal defeated Dusan Lajovic (No. 85), Taro Daniel (No. 121), lucky loser Leonard Mayer (No. 59), Alexander Dolgopolov (No. 64) and Andrey Rublev (No. 53) to reach the semifinals. Not a single seed among them.

In the final four, he met a Juan Martin del Potro depleted from an unlikely come-from-behind victory in the fourth round, and an emotional win over Federer in the quarters.

Had Nadal not taken this wide-open opportunity and grabbed it with both hands, he would have had an awful lot of trouble forgiving himself for letting it slip away.

A great rebound season

At the French Open a year ago, Rafael Nadal pulled out in the first week with a wrist injury that had been bothering him during the clay-court season. He missed Wimbledon, and only made it back for the Olympics in Rio because it meant so very much to him.

A year later, he has won his 10th French Open. And now, the US Open. And made the final in a third Slam as well.

“I tell you what happened last year. I was ready to win Roland Garros last year. That’s the real thing. I don’t say if I don’t get injury, I will win Roland Garros, because is something that is impossible to predict, but I really and honestly can tell you that I felt myself ready to win Roland Garros, because I was playing well. But of course when you get injury, then seems like the season is a disaster,” he said. 

“But here we are, and just can say thanks to life for that opportunity. I think I did the right work. I believed on the work, on the daily work all the time. And I still believe on these things to improve. I wake up every morning with the passion to go on court and to try to improve things. Probably that’s why I still have chances to compete in this sport and to do it well. That’s all.”

2017 was nuts; 2018 could be NUTS

Which is not to say there’s an asterisk on No. 16. In the end, you can only defeat the player who shows up to take you on that day. That players were missing, or lost early, or couldn’t physically get through the seven matches required to win a major was most definitely not Nadal’s problem.

This year’s Grand Slam season began with that annual hope that one of the next generation would break through and win. In the end, Nadal has two majors (the French and US Opens). And Federer has the other two (The Australian Open and Wimbledon).

 By the time 2018 rolls around, you would expect the walking wounded back. But their rankings will have taken a hit.

If you thought this US Open was a free-for-all, wait until Melbourne in January.

Nadal to meet Anderson in US Open final

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NEW YORK – The list of absentees in the men’s singles draw for this US Open almost guaranteed that some outlier, some inspirational longshot, would make a big run out of the bottom half of the draw.

That happened.

But in the end, the No. 1 ranked player in the world made it, too.

Rafael Nadal will play for his 16th Grand Slam title, his third US Open title on Sunday. And he’ll face a longshot who is seeking his first major title, in his first major final.

Sounds like a mismatch, on paper. But tennis isn’t played on paper.

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson, who would have been unseeded with a full field but ended up in the No. 28 slot, defeated No. 12 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 in the first men’s semifinal of the day Friday.

Anderson
Anderson was almost in disbelief, but absolutely thrilled, after beating Pablo Carreño Busta in the US Open semifinals

In the nightcap, Nadal survived a shaky first set. After that, he ran over a depleted Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2.

Early tactical woes

Two days before, after losing to him in the quarterfinals, a tired Roger Federer said he thought del Potro would have a better shot at beating Nadal.

But after back-to-back emotional matches to get here, the Argentine used up whatever energy reserve he had left in the first set.

Anderson
Nadal was pretty psyched with the victory, which will have him playing for his third US Open title on Sunday.

It was the 15th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal won by Nadal. The last one he lost was to del Potro – a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 drubbing in that 2009 US Open that remains the only major on the Argentine’s resumé.

The first set had Nadal so far back behind the court, he was practically on a first-name basis with the fans in the front row. His game plan evidently had been to pound del Potro’s weaker backhand with his own forehand, a cross-court pattern that you wouldn’t think would favor del Potro.

But the backhand held up. It was fairly clear that del Potro’s plan was to hit out with his two-handed backhand as much as he could, throwing his ongoing concern for his surgically repaired wrist to the wind.

He knew – everyone in Arthur Ashe Stadium knew, too – that slicing to Nadal’s forehand was going to mean an early shower.

Adjustments on the fly

In the second set, Nadal reset.

Perhaps his uncle and coach Toni Nadal had a direct pipeline to Nadal on that sit-down. Because just as he was outlining the adjustments thought his nephew should make during an interview with ESPN, Nadal did exactly that.

“This match, we have a problem. When Rafael hits the ball with his forehand to del Potro’s backhand, our forehand is not good enough. And del Potro can play easy with his backhand, and then he makes better shots with his forehand,” Toni Nadal told Pam Shriver. “In my opinion, Rafael has to give more power in every shot. And go sometimes to the net.

“The problem is he has go more to the ball, not waiting (for) the ball, and sometimes he gives too much spin. He has to hit it.”

The spinny forehand is the telltale sign of nerves for Nadal.

Pooped del Potro

But by the second set, as del Potro was running on fumes, Nadal knew exactly what to do. He literally doubled the number of balls he hit to del Potro’s forehand in the last three sets.

And Nadal against a winded, wounded opponent can be pretty merciless.

He even began taking far less time between points on serve, robbing del Potro of much needed recovery time between points. Tactically, it was a great move.

“Of course I went on court with the idea to hit more against his backhand. But at the same time, knowing that I have to play against his forehand, too. Sometimes you need to lose or you need to see that things are not going well to really take that position and I made it. That’s what happen, no? After losing the first set, I say if I keep going that way, maybe I going to be two sets against (me) quick, so now is the moment to change,” Nadal said.

“And I changed and it worked well. Sometimes (it doesn’t) work well. Today worked well, and I’m happy. I think I am with confidence. I am doing the right things, and my serve worked well. But I changed a little bit the directions in the first set. I think that I was serving too much against his backhand, too, and then I started to change the rhythm of the serve. That was very important too, no?

“The most important thing is, after the first set, in my opinion, he didn’t hit balls in a row from good positions. That makes the difference.”

Good form, right attitude

Nadal’s serve has been on point this summer, even in the matches he has lost.

It’s not what it was when he won the US Open in 2010; that year, he was firing it up to 130 mph at times. But he’s got more velocity on it than he has had in recent years. And he’s being a little less predictable with it. He’s holding serve impressively.

Del Potro had just two break-point opportunities the entire match. The one he did convert in the first set came after a let cord that went his way.

Nadal also went 21-for-27 at the net.

“I think I never had the control of the match. I just have lucky to (break) his serve with the net point. He was playing me all the time to my backhand. When you don’t have that confidence to play three, four hours with a good backhand against Rafa, is just matter of time to get down your game. But also, he improve very much his game after the second set, and his balls come too fast from both sides.” Del Potro said.

“I think at the beginning of the match, he was playing all the time to my backhand, trying to see how good is my backhand at this moment. It was good, but it wasn’t good enough to play four-set, five-set match. And I couldn’t make any winner in the match, which you must do a lot of winners against Rafa.”

Old foes meet again

In Anderson, Nadal meets a longtime acquaintance, going all the way back to the 12-and-under junior tour. They are just two weeks apart, with Anderson being the elder.

The way the South African celebrated after winning his semifinal against Carreño Busta, you wonder what he might have left in the bag should he buck all the odds and beat Nadal on Sunday.

Anderson
Usually this happens after a final. But Anderson impressively climbed up to the player’s box to celebrated with his people after the win

The 6-foot-8 giant nimbly climbed up in to the player’s box to celebrate with his coach, wife and various other friends and supporters.

That’s a ritual normally reserved for finals day. But you can understand him taking the opportunity to do it on Friday.

Enjoy tonight, prepare tomorrow

Anderson
How long have Kevin Anderson and Rafael Nadal known each other? Since the 12-and-unders in Stuttgart back in the 90s.

He was talking a mile a minute on court and moving a mile a minute as well, afterwards. That’s how much the adrenaline was still flowing.

Anderson got into the top 10 – for a week – in Oct. 2015. He had issues with his knee for the longest time and at the end of last year, he began having trouble with his hip.

His ranking was down to No. 80 as the first Grand Slam tournament of the season began in Australia

“It was diagnosed as a labrum tear. I spoke to several doctors. It’s a tricky injury. … I was fortunate enough to be acquainted with some very good physios who thought I could beat it without getting surgery,” he said. “It took a lot of work. I mean, several hours a day over, you know, almost two months. Even after that, another couple months of rehab. I feel like obviously the biggest plus is when, you know, all the work you do really pays off.”

When the final major of the season is in the books, Anderson will be ranked No. 15 at worst.

If he can beat Nadal for the first time in his pro career, he will be back in the top 10.

(Oh, and there were a few golfers there).

US Open Day 12 – Men’s semis preview

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NEW YORK – On paper, at least, the second men’s semifinal is the defacto final.

But let’s hold off on handing out the big trophy for now. Because Grand Slam semifinal newbies Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain and Kevin Anderson of South Africa have something to say about it.

Carreño Busta, 26 and Anderson, 31, will lead off men’s semifinal day at 4 p.m. EDT. They will be playing by far the biggest match of their careers. And the fascinating thing will be to watch how each handles the occasion.

Both players benefited immensely from the fact that Andy Murray’s late withdrawal led to a somewhat unbalanced draw. 

Anderson defeated a qualifier, then Ernests Gulbis in straight sets and then Borna Coric (who had upset No. 4 Alexander Zverev in the previous round but couldn’t back it up). In the fourth round, he caught a break with Paolo Lorenzi, who had come of a section of the draw that included Jack Sock and Gilles Muller (whom Lorenzi took care of personally). And then, a surprisingy passive Sam Querrey. Most players would take that in a heartbeat.

Carreño Busta’s dream draw

Carreño Busta had an even easier ride, relatively speaking. No less an authority than Roger Federer referred to that (maybe a little bit of shade?) after his loss to Juan Martin del Potro. 

He drew qualifier, qualifier, qualifier and then qualifier to reach the quarters. The last of them was 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who upset No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the early going but, after six matches, had run out of steam. 

In the quarters, he defeated No. 29 seed Diego Schwartzman, who was not 100 per cent physically but had done him a great service in knocking out No. 5 Marin Cilic and No. 16 Lucas Pouille along the way. Most players would take that draw in half a heartbrat.

In his quarterfinal, Anderson was as expressive and aggressive as anyone had ever seen him. At 6-foot-8, he’s one of the big servers out on the ATP Tour, with a great trajectory. But as his career has progressed, he has become more than that.

All that was missing, perhaps, was that aggressiveness and drive.

Anderson the favorite

Anderson leads their head-to-head 2-0. Notably, the two played just a few weeks ago in Montreal, and the South African won in straight sets.

These two are the opening act in the figurative and literal sense. Because ticketholders, as much as they might enjoy discovering these two, will really be waiting for the main event that takes place immediately afterwards.

Del Potro had been 5-16 against Roger Federer going into their quarterfinal. But he had beaten him in some pretty big matches, including the 2009 US Open final and, now, the 2017 US Open quarters.

His record against Nadal is better – 5-8. 

They had not played for nearly three years when they met in the semifinals of the Olympic event in Rio de Janeiro last summer. Del Potro won that one – an emotional effort. He defeated him three consecutive times on North American hard courts back in del Potro’s breakout year in 2009. 

It’s a tough one to call. Nadal’s level has been up and down this US Open. And with all the talk of a potential Nadal-Federer clash here – it has never happened in their careers and who knows, it may never happen – he might prefer this one. 

Del Potro down – but not out

Del Potro seemed down and out against Dominic Thiem in the fourth round, as a virus laid him out and turned his nose Stan Wawrinka red. Somehow, he escaped that one in an incredible comeback. And he rode the wave through the match with a sub-par Federer who nevertheless had his chances.

Two more days of rest, and playing the later match, will help del Potro get to the endurance level that any opponent needs to take on Nadal in a best-of-five set match.

semifinals

Nadal destroyed 19-year-old Andrey Rublev in his own quarterfinal match, losing just five games and expending relatively little energy. But that match didn’t necessarily reflect his level; more than anything, it reflected the inexperience level of his teenaged opponent.

The Argentine’s cheering section was large and in charge in the Federer match, definitely a different dynamic than the 36-year-old Swiss star is accustomed to. Against Nadal, it may be overwhelming. And the fact that the sun will have set and the lights will be on in Arthur Ashe Stadium should turn this one into a great event.

Doubles champions crowned

 The men’s doubles champions were crowned earlier Friday.

No. 12 seeds Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands and Horia Tecau of Romania defeated No. 11 seeds Marc Lopez and Feliciano Lopez of Spain 6-4, 6-3 to win their second major title.

The pair Wimbledon in 2015, and finished a superb season by taking the ATP Tour Finals in London.

It was the first US Open men’s doubles final in the open era (since 1968) to feature two teams seeded No. 10 or higher. 

Their pure doubles aggressiveness was the different in what was a rather routine victory, after both teams had superb tournaments.

Rojer and Tecau had the much tougher road; they defeated the No. 6, No. 4 and No. 1 seeds along the way. Lopez and Lopez defeated the fifth-seeded Bryan brothers in the semifinals, losing their first set in five matches to that point.

Rafa brings down the house in press

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NEW YORK – The prospect of Rafael Nadal facing Roger Federer at the US Open, for the first time ever, obviously led to a host of questions from the media Wednesday.

Nadal had few issues in dispatching 19-year-old Andrey Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 as he kept his part of their long-anticipated semifinal date.

But even though Federer and Juan Martin del Potro had yet to play their own semifinal, the subject of Fedal in Ashe was front and centre.

They were one match away from meeting back in 2009. But del Potro spoiled the Fedal party with a win over Nadal – 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 – followed by a win over Federer in the final.

Nadal isn’t exactly the guy who pulls out bon mots in press conferences and gets everyone laughing. He’s a serious, earnest guy in press.

Plus, with English not being his first language, he’s not likely to tell a joke.

But at a certain point Wednesday, he got everyone laughing.

But then, a mite sheepish, he answered the question well, as he always does.

“I don’t want to look like I gonna be his boyfriend, no? (That’s where he got the laughs). We don’t want to talk these kind of things before important match.

“Well, we have a lot of respect for each other, no? We played a lot of times. I think we did important things for tennis. We appreciate that. And we always had a good relationship. We played for our foundations. I think he always have been a great ambassador for tennis and for our sport, with good image, of course, and representing, I think, good values.

“One important thing that is a great example for kids, no, after a lot of years and winning more than (anybody), he still have the passion to keep doing what he did during all his career, no? And doing unbelievable well and doing with the right attitude and with the right passion and love for the sport, no?

“So that’s something important for me and something that I admire him, and inside the court, I admire of him the same, as you can admire, because everybody knows how complete (he is), and he’s able to produce all the shots.”