Geneva Laver Cup a sellout in two hours

If you weren’t quick on the keyboard at 10 a.m. Geneva time (4 a.m. EST) this morning, you’re out of luck for September’s Laver Cup.

Unless your level of disposable income is off the charts, of course.

All the tickets available for the upper and lower bowls for the three-day, five-session event at Geneva’s 17,000-seat Palexpo sold out in two hours this morning.

In the upper bowl, prices ranged from $250 to over $1,500 for the five sessions.

In the lower bowl, they ranged from $1180 to $2820 US.

Unless they held back some single-session tickets for sale closer to the event (doubtful, but you never know), you had to buy the entire five-session package or be left out.

Get out your wallets

The premium “Hospitality” ticket series are the only option remaining.

And even the cheapest of those are already gone – the three “lowest” levels in this category. Also gone are the “Legends Cup 2” tickets – which are front row along the east sideline and probably don’t even offer the best viewing.

But they’re front row.

The prices on the remaining tickets begin at $6,100 and go up to nearly $7,700 US. That average out to $1,220 – $1540 per session.

Federer and “Team Europe” captain Bjorn Borg were on hand in Geneva Friday as the tickets went on sale.

Geneva
(Pic: Laver Cup)

Third straight smashing success

This will be the third edition of the Laver Cup, which is an exhibition event. The first two, in Prague and Chicago, also were huge successes on the ticket-selling front.

The Laver Cup: overall, a great debut

And obviously, having this edition in Switzerland, with national hero Roger Federer still a top player, was a slam-dunk.

Still, you get the sense that they need to strike while the iron is hot. 

This edition has confirmed Federer and Rafael Nadal. But the event is more than nine months away. Recent history has not favoured Nadal, health wise, during the post-US Open part of the season.

Federer will be 38 by then. He seems in good form now. But at that age, there’s little certainty there even if he has proven remarkably resilient.

Post-Federer, a harder sell?

But what about “A.F” (after Federer)?

The territory is far less certain at that point, because there’s no doubt Federer’s presence and promotional capabilities drive this particular event. 

It will be fascinating to see how it will “survive” without him even if as an investor, he’ll likely still be fully engaged in promoting it. But when he’s no longer stepping on court, that’s a game-changer.

Laver Cup tix a pricey business

It’s a fantastic event – well-staged, top class. The players who have taken part seem to enjoy it for the most part (as well as the nice cheque they get for showing up).

As a television event, beyond the fact that the commentators and analysts are still trying a little too hard to “hype” it as a “real competitiion”, it’s topnotch. But television viewers don’t pay those premium prices for tickets.

After two years, we’re told, the event is still in the red because of the high startup costs. You’d have to think this third edition will put it in the black – to match the distinctive court.

 

Imperial Djokovic wins 7th Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia – The tennis that Novak Djokovic imposed upon Rafael Nadal Sunday night in the Australian Open men’s singles final was of all-world proportions.

And the bell that sounded when it was over after barely two hours sounded like this: “Roger and your 20 majors? Rafa and your 17? I’m coming for you.”

In Nadal’s case, that might even be this season, if Sunday’s combination of motivation, desire and execution is any hint.

Djokovic surrendered just eight games and made just nine unforced errors in a 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory. His eternal rival, in their 53rd meeting, was at times made to look as though he had never faced this particular Serb before.

“Obviously back to back semi-finals and finals and make 15 unforced errors in total, in two matches, is quite pleasantly surprising to myself. Even though I always believe I can play this way, and kind of visualize myself playing this way, at this level and under the circumstances it was really a perfect match,” Djokovic said.

It took 33 minutes, through more than four service games, for Nadal to win a point on Djokovic’s serve. They were 53 minutes in before he won his second. It took an hour and 46 minutes for Nadal to get his first break opportunity on Djokovic’s serve. Some 15 minutes after that, it was over.

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Quick start the key

The victory wasn’t a shock, based on their hard-court resumé. But the jokers were a little wild on that score. It has been nearly three years since they met on a hard court.

Since then, both have had physical challenges. Djokovic went from the nearly-unbeatable player he was then into a downturn exacerbated by both ailing elbow and bruised psyche. After winning so much, for such an extended period of time, he needed to find new purpose and new motivation for this chapter of his career.

In healing both, he found it.

In a battle of favorites, Osaka prevails in Oz Open final

Still, Nadal hadn’t won a hard-court set from Djokovic since the 2013 US Open final. And he’d played little hard-court tennis at all over the last 12 months: only the Australian Open (where he retired against Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals), the Roger Cup (which he won) and the US Open, where he retired against Juan Martin del Potro in the semis.

So form held true, in that sense.

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The plate, rather than “Norman” was not what Nadal came for on Sunday. But he was able to appreciate the unexpectedly dominant two weeks of tennis that came before it.

Defense didn’t answer the call

Beyond that, Djokovic had extra mustard. He kept the ball deep, as he always does. But he took it so early, so often, he gave Nadal no time to settle in, no room to breathe. He rattled him from the start.

If Nadal’s legs looked a bit frozen, if he looked nervous, Nadal said that was all credit to his opponent.

“It was not about being more nervous. I (had) normal nerves, like final of Grand Slam. But the things started so quick. He was pushing me to every ball. What on other days have been a serve and a ball that I can have in offensive position, today have been in defensive position. That’s not nerves. That’s things that happened quicker than what happened the previous days,” he said.

“I don’t like to say he played unbelievably well, because looks like you find an excuse for yourself. The real thing is he played so well. He did a lot of things (that are) very difficult unbelievably well. He hit so long. His return was fantastic. He was super quick. I really believe that he was able to work very hard on the off-season on his movement. He was moving unbelievably well. I felt that good shots came back with offensive position for me, after not a bad shot from me, I have been in the defensive position (instead).”

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Nadal had a clear idea of how it went wrong on Sunday, without failing to acknowledge the extremely high level of his opponent.

Quick start required

Djokovic said he needed to rush out of the starting gates with a flourish.

“It’s exactly what I intended to do. I want do step out on court and bring the intensity. Because I knew intensity was waiting for me on the other side. He makes you play every shot from the very first point, brings a lot of energy in the shots,” Djokovic said. “I definitely needed a good start, because we both were playing well coming into the match. I knew I have a good chance if I’m in the court dictating play.”

The Mallorcan had looked impressive in getting to the final. More than that; he had looked devastating.

But his draw was well set up. He dismissed the Next Gen – Alex de Minaur, Frances Tiafoe and Stefanos Tsitsipas – with a few swats of his mighty Babolat. He took care of a resurgent contemporary, Tomas Berdych, with all the might his 19-4 head-to-head against the Czech would suggest.

Djokovic was a next-level challenge, compared to those who had come before. Perhaps two levels above.

An as Nadal explained it, he didn’t have that “extra thing” he needed to put up more resistance.

Nadal said he was able to win his first six matches with his offense. But against Djokovic, he knew he needed his defence to also be up to the task.

Lack of practice, lack of perfect

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Djokovic was in pretty fine spirits during his post-victory press conference.

This was his first official tournament since the US Open last September. And the player who builds so much of his confidence on how much, and how well, he practices had been woefully short in that area. So when he needed it, it wasn’t there.

“I have been lot of months without having the chance to practice, without having the chance to compete. And have been two positive weeks. The only thing probably that I need is time and more matches. … Of course, he played better than what probably he played during the rest of the tournament. Being honest, I saw him the tournament more or less. He probably played the best match so far. Playing that well, is so difficult for everybody, for everyone, when he plays that level, is so difficult to fight for victories against him,” Nadal said.

“But if I am able to run 100 per cent and to resist every ball, then you find ways. The things that looks easy for him become little bit more difficult when you have to do it one more time, one more time and one more time. I was not able to push him to do it one more, one more, one more every time. That’s my feeling,” he added. “I believe the level of tennis have been great. Probably the only thing that remained a little bit more to me was normally the best thing that I have (the defense). Is something that I am not worried much.”

Nole Slam nears again

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Djokovic joked that Roy Emerson (far left) was “pissed” that the Serb’s 7th Australian Open had broken his record.

A year ago in Melbourne, Djokovic was just weeks away from surgery on his elbow. He was defeated in straight sets by Hyeon Chung of Korea in the fourth round.

He returned – perhaps too hastily – and lost in the first round of both Indian Wells and Miami. But by Wimbledon, he was back. 

“Not impossible, but highly unlikely. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I always believe in myself, and that’s probably the biggest secret of my success, or any other athlete,” Djokovic said about Sunday night’s win, looking ahead from where he was a year ago.

An imperial challenge

Djokovic has now won the last three majors. If he can win the French Open in the spring, he would hold all four Grand Slams at once for the second time in his career. And he will have won them in the same order: starting with Wimbledon, ending with Roland Garros. 

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A huge crowd of Serbian fans enjoyed the victory both inside Margaret Court Arena and outside in Garden Square.

“We’ll see. Obviously it’s just the beginning of the season. I know there’s a lot of tournaments to play before the Roland Garros, so I have plenty of time to build my form slowly, obviously staying on a hard court first with big tournaments, Indian Wells and Miami, then starting the clay,” he said. “Obviously I have to work on my game, my clay court game, a bit more, more specifically than I have in the last season. I need to play better than I have last season. I am already playing better. But, I mean, clay specifically in order to have a chance and shot at the title.

“The ultimate challenge there is to win against Nadal. Then you have Thiem and Zverev, Roger is probably going to play. You have a lot of great players that on clay can challenge me or anybody else.”

Is 20 in sight?

He now has seven Australian Opens. And he has 15 majors – two short of Nadal, five short of Federer.

He’s going to give it a go.

“I am aware that making history of the sport that I truly love is something special. Of course, it motivates me. Playing Grand Slams, biggest ATP events, is my utmost priority in this season and in seasons to come. How many seasons are to come? I don’t know. I’m not trying to think too much advance,” he said. 

“I do want to definitely focus myself on continuing to improve my game and maintaining the overall well-being that I have mental, physical, emotional, so I would be able to compete at such a high level for the years to come, and have a shot at eventually getting closer to Roger’s record. It’s still far.”

ATP Player Council postpones decision on Kermode

MELBOURNE, Australia – The ATP Tour Player Council have voted on a majority against the continued leadership of tour CEO Chris Kermod, tennis.life has learned.

The vote took place as part of the annual players’ meeting held Saturday in Melbourne.

But we’re also told the 10-member council has put off making an official decision about its position.

Headed by president Novak Djokovic and vice-president Kevin Anderson, the council will postpone its definitive position until the Indian Wells tournament in March.

Kermode’s second term as head of the men’s tour ends at the conclusion of this season. He could be renewed for a third term by a vote of the ATP Tour board of directors.

The 54-year-old Brit was seen as a compromise candidate when he was appointed in Nov. 2013. The premature and tragic death of predecessor Brad Drewett the previous May led to the opportunity.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley was preferred by some. In recent years, he has expanded the reach of his country’s tennis influence well beyond the Grand Slam it hosts, 

Will board reps follow players’ lead?

According to the Telegraph, the ATP Tour board is to vote on this before the end of the month. The six-man board is composed of three members representing the tournaments’ interests, and three representing the players’ interests.

In theory, the three player reps would follow the lead of the Player Council’s position.

But that doesn’t always happen. Player rep Roger Rasheed voted to accept the offering of prize-money increases between 4-6 per cent for 2019, against the players’ wishes. He was ousted from the board shortly afterward.

Player rep Rasheed ousted from ATP Board

Rasheed was replaced – at least on interim, by former board rep David Egdes. Egdes is an executive with Tennis Channel. The other two player reps are Alex Inglot and Justin Gimelstob.

Gimelstob pleads “not guilty” in L.A. court

Gimelstob, who has pleaded “not guilty” to a charge of felony battery stemming from an incident on Halloween night, often has been at odds with Kermode. The two have markedly different philosophies, it seems.

The ATP Board voted last month not to remove Gimelstob from the board, in the wake of the charges. Neither Gimelstob nor Kermode cast a vote, per the New York Times.

Until this very serious business in his personal life, Gimelstob had been mentioned as an potential, eventual successor in the top job.

Early vote goes against Kermode

The Telegraph reported that Kermode needs (at least) two of the tournament reps and two of the player reps to vote in his favor, to renew his deal.

Kermode

Nine of the 10 players voted at the players meeting. And tennis.life has been told by a well-connected tennis source that five voted against Kermode. Four voted in his favor. The 10th vote is believed to also be a vote against him, although others maintain it was a pro-Kermode vote, which would knot the tabulation a 5-5. Let’s call that one “unclear”.

If “no” proves to be the final position, it will set off some interesting machinations inside the Tour.

Several players have publicly come out in support of Kermode this week.

Those include Stan Wawrinka, as quoted in the Telegraph story.

Aussie Nick Kyrgios, in his pre-tournament press conference, also came out in support.

“I personally like Chris. I think the changes that tennis is having with ATP Cup and stuff, I think it’s going in the right direction. He’s trying to do the right thing. I really like him, so… ” Kyrgios said.

Pospisil urges player involvement

Canadian Vasek Pospisil, newly elected to the board last year, sent out an email destined for the players ranked 51-100, the demographic he was elected to represent.

It was a strongly-worded, impassioned plea for the players to get more involved, unified and informed – to get motivated to have more of a say about their own future.

New Player Council member Pospisil wants to be a force for change

Pospisil is believed to be among those who voted against keeping Kermode in his job, along with president Djokovic.

A year ago, at the very same players meeting in Melbourne, Djokovic led the charge for the players to demand a bigger share of the tennis pie.

All of this comes at a fascinating, crucial time in the tour’s history. The new ATP Cup is set to kick off in 2020. And it will be country-versus-country event that comes up almost in direct competition with the revamped Davis Cup format.

The announcement of the imminent retirement of former No. 1 Andy Murray. at age 31. is a bit of a wakep call. It’s a preview of what inevitably occur in the next few years.

The so-called “Big 3” of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic (in order of age from eldest to youngest) will hang up their rackets.

Their successor at the top level of the game – at least in terms of being marquee attractions – have yet to be determined. And so, the tennis landscape could look quite different in a few years.

Most importantly: do those who don’t want Kermode to continue in the job have a viable, qualified, available candidate in mind who would tick as many boxes and better defend their interests?

That’s a question still to be answered.

ATP Rankings Report – Nov. 5, 2018

With Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from Paris, Novak Djokovic was assured of returning to the No. 1 ranking for the first time since Oct. 31, 2016.

With Nadal’s withdrawal from the ATP Tour Finals in London next week, Djokovic also was assured of finishing as year-end No. 1 for the first time since 2015, and the fifth time overall (2011-12, 2014-15).

Not that the 31-year-old Serb wouldn’t have done it anyway. He has been by far the best of the top players on form, and results, since Wimbledon.

Still, it’s a great piece of (gluten-free) cake to end his renaissance season.

Going into the French Open, Djokovic was ranked as low as No. 22. There, he was shocked by Marco Cecchinato of Italy. But since then, the Nole train has been roaring down the track at warp speed.

ON THE UPSWING

Novak Djokovic (SRB): No. 2 ————> No. 1

Kei Nishikori (JPN): No. 11 ————> No. 9 (Back in the top 10 for the first time since Aug. 2017)

Karen Khachanov (RUS): No. 18 ————> No. 11 (The Masters 1000 winner in Paris gets himself just a few hundred points out of the year-end top 10. Something to shoot for in 2019).

Milos Raonic (CAN): No. 21 ————> No. 18

Denis Shapovalov (CAN): No. 29 ————> No. 27

Alex de Minaur (AUS): No. 33 ————> No. 31 (ties his career high).

Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER): No. 43 ————> No. 36

Marton Fucsovics (HUN): No. 42 ————> No. 38 (He bowed out before his Paris match against Fabio Fognini, but the 26-year-old reaches a career high and jumps into the top 40).

Frances Tiafoe (USA): No. 44 ————> No. 40

Malek Jaziri (TUN): No. 55 ————> No. 46 (At age 34, the happy lucky loser in Paris reaches a career high).

Taylor Fritz (USA): No. 49 ————> No. 47 (The Next-Genner also reaches a career high).

Feliciano Lopez (ESP): No. 71 ————> No. 63 (The 37-year-old did yeoman’s work against a couple of kids in Paris, and nearly went further).

Andrey Rublev (RUS): No. 76 ————> No. 68 (A back injury did in his season a little, but the Next-Genner will be back up there before you know it).

Vasek Pospisil (CAN): No. 75 ————> No. 71 (At No. 108 to start the season, and in Slam qualifying, Pospisil has come back nicely).

Jordan Thompson (AUS): No. 87 ————> No. 73 (The Canberra Challenger champion has been outside the top 100 his season. But despite having gone just 1-11 at the ATP level, he has still managed to improve his lot).

Guido Andreozzi (ARG): No. 107 ————> No. 82 (The Argentine sets himself up for a payday in Melbourne).

Peter Polansky (CAN): No. 130 ————> No. 120 (Winning the Charlottesville final over Tommy Paul would have given him five more spots towards that elusive top-100 barrier. But he has two more events to go this year).

Miomir Kecmanovic (SRB): No. 162 ————> No. 133 (The 19-year-old made another big leap to another career high by winning the Shenzhen Challenger).

Blaz Kavcic (SLO): No. 224 ————> No. 197 (Should get him into the Aus Open qualies).

Tommy Paul (USA): No. 277 ————> No. 222 (The American wins his first Challenger title in Charlottesville).

Paul wins first Challenger title

ON THE DOWNSWING

Rafael Nadal (ESP): No. 1 ————> No. 2

Grigor Dimitrov (BUL): No. 10 ————> No. 19

David Goffin (BEL): No. 12 ————> No. 22

Filip Krajinovic (SRB): No. 34 ————> No. 93 (Injured a fair bit this season, the Serb was unable to defend his tremendous result in Paris last year).

Radu Albot (MDA): No. 86 ————> No. 100

Jack Sock (USA): No. 23 ————> No. 105 (Sock will have to sweat it out to see if he makes the Australian Open main draw. Even if he wanted to play a Challenger next week, he’ll almost certainly be playing doubles in London with Mike Bryan).

Jack Sock salvages season in Paris

Julien Benneteau (FRA): No. 72 ————> No. 137 (As Benneteau wraps up his career, he drops his semifinal result from last year’s Paris Masters)

Nicolas Mahut (FRA): No. 169 ————> No. 196 (Unlike his fellow 36-year-old Benneteau, Mahut (a top doubles player) has no plans to stop any time soon.

(For the complete ATP Tour rankings picture, click here).

 

Nadal ends season with London withdrawal

Rafael Nadal is definitely a little cursed when it comes to the ATP Tour Finals.

And once again this season, he will be forced to miss it.

The abdominal injury that caused him to withdraw from the Paris Masters last week isn’t sufficiently healed to consider playing the best in the world.

Not only that, Nadal is also having rather unexpected arthroscopic surgery Monday.

He will have a loose, intra-articular bone fragment in his right ankle joint removed, a condition called  “synovial chondromatosis”.

Nadal announced the news in a series of Tweets Monday morning from Barcelona, where he will have the surgery.

“It has been a complicated year, very good at the tennis level when I have been able to play and at the same time, very bad as far as injuries are concerned. I have done everything possible to get to end of season in good condition, both to Paris and to London, doing things well and I really wanted to play,” he write.

“Unfortunately I had the abdominal problem in Paris last week and I also have a (floating) body in the ankle joint that has to be removed in the operating room today.”

Nadal added that the ankle issue had been ongoing and was an occasional, if not constant, issue.

But given the additional problem with the abdominal, which was reason enough to pass on London, it was the right time to have the fragment removed and resolve the problem once and for all.

“This way I hope to be in full condition for next season,” Nadal wrote.

The Mallorcan has qualified for the Tour Finals 14 times. This is now the seventh time Nadal has either missed the event entirely, or pulled out after it began.

Second withdrawal: first del Potro, now Nadal

American John Isner is the first alternate for the final eight at the Tour Finals.

And Paris Masters champion Karen Khachanov, with that win, moves into the position of first alternate.

Already, Kei Nishikori qualified with the withdrawal of another popular, high-profile player, Juan Martin del Potro.

Del Potro out, Nishikori into London

The official draw is to be made Monday evening, 7 p.m. London time.

So the withdrawal is both timely – and considerate.

Nadal’s late withdrawal in Paris came after the draw. And it resulted in Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer ending up in the same half of the draw.

That enthralling semifinal they played could well have been a final.

As it is now, they’ll find themselves in separate pools, as the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.

And the withdrawal ensures Novak Djokovic will finish the 2018 season as No. 1, since Nadal was the only one with a shot at catching him.

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

Nadal out of Paris, Djokovic back at No. 1

The order of play Wednesday in Paris looked pretty box-office.

Roger Federer was to wrap up the day session against Milos Raonic, with No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal opening the night session against countryman Fernando Verdasco.

In the end, fans didn’t get to see either one.

Federer received a walkover from Raonic, who cited a right elbow injury. The Canadian had survived a three-tiebreak victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first ound Tuesday night.

As for Nadal, who hasn’t played since the US Open because of a recurrence of his patella tendonitis, his Paris Masters was over before it began.

The knee seems fine – better than he had anticipated.

But an abdominal injury has popped up in the last few days. And so, he pulled out, replaced by lucky loser Malek Jaziri.

Risk of a abdominal tear

Here’s what Nadal said during a press conference late Wednesday afternoon – the mere announcement of which presaged the worst.

“I arrived here a couple of days ago. As everybody knows, I have been out of competition since the US Open. I come back, and it was great to be here in Paris for a couple of days. And I enjoy it. I feel myself, in terms of tennis, better than what I really thought one week ago,” he said.

“But the last few days I started to feel a little bit the abdominal, especially when I was serving. I was checking with the doctor, and the doctor says it’s recommended to not play. Because if I continue, the abdominal maybe can break, and can be a major thing. And I really don’t want that. It has been a tough year until that moment, in terms of injuries. So I want to avoid drastic things.

“Maybe I can play today. But the doctor says if I want to play the tournament – if I want to try to win the tournament – the abdominal will break for sure. So it would be not fair, and not good for me – for nobody – to go inside the court knowing probably the full tournament will not be possible to play,” Nadal added. “Of course I am not happy, but of course I have to accept and stay positive.”

Djokovic returns to No. 1

With the withdrawal, Novak Djokovic will return to the No. 1 ranking next Monday.

That will be true, regardless of how far he goes into the Paris Masters draw.

He will be the first player to be ranked outside the top 20, and be No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. Safin was as lot as No. 38 that season, before going all the way to the top of the rankings.

Djokovic began the season ranked No. 14 and dropped as low as No. 22 before the French Open. At that point, he was 7,110 points behind Nadal in the standings.

Since then, he has returned to full form and has won Wimbledon, Cincinnati, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters. Since Djokovic didn’t play after Wimbledon a year ago because of the ongoing elbow injury for which he had surgery in February, he was able to make up a lot of ground.

Concurrently Nadal, struggling with his knee, dropped points he was defending as the US Open and Beijing champion in 2017.

paris

There may be an element of the precautionary with his, as the ATP Tour Finals begin in less than two weeks. As well, Djokovic is in full form despite seeming a bit under the weather in his second-round win over Joao Sousa in Monday. He had a day off Wednesday to help him recover.

So Nadal was faced with the likelihood that if he wanted to retain the No. 1 ranking for at least one more week – assuming this was a factor at all – he might well have to win the tournament despite Djokovic having the tougher road in the bottom half.

Knowing he wasn’t in a great position to do that and risking tearing the abdominal in the process, Nadal wisely erred on the side of caution.

In addition to Raonic and Nadal, Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics also withdrew from the tournament Wednesday. That gave No. 13 seed Fabio Fognini of Italy a walkover.

So Federer and Fognini will be on even terms when they meet in the third round.

(Screenshots of Nadal from TennisTV)

Djokovic, del Potro survive to reach US Open final

NEW YORK – After five matches under Grand Slam stress and through some of the toughest playing conditions in recent memory, four were left on Friday at the US Open.

Given what had come before, it probably wasn’t a shock that the best tennis in the men’s event this year may have already been played.

But maybe not. 

There’s one more to go.

Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro will meet in Sunday’s men’s singles final. And you can only hope that it will be a compelling, close contest after the semifinals were anything but.

The first to fall was the eldest of the quartet, 32-year-old Rafael Nadal.

The defending champion retired after del Potro won the first two sets, as his right knee again prevented him from showing his best.

He first felt it at 2-2 in the first set.

Tendonitis, Chapter 15

survive

“The pain on the knee is always very similar … The problem is this time was something little bit more aggressive because was in one movement. Was not something progressive,” he said.

Nadal had it flare up in the early rounds, even having the knee wrapped during his third-round match. But it responded to treatment – until it didn’t.

It’s still the same patellar tendinitis. And Nadal, who is scheduled to play the Davis Cup semifinals next weekend, said it’s not a matter of three weeks – or six months. It’s about judging how much pain he’s willing to play with, as the tendonitis eventually responds to treatment.

Let’s just say, he knows the drill by now.

Del Potro is into his first US Open final since he won it all the way back in 2009. It is the biggest gap between Slam finals in the Open era. And the shortened match was a blessing in the sense that he won’t be going into it having had to survive a marathon in the semis.

“I cannot believe that I will have a chance to play another Grand Slam finals in here, which is my favorite tournament. So it would be special to me. Would be a big challenge, as well, because I’ve been fighting with many, many problems to get in this moment,” del Potro said.

“It will be a difficult match, of course. But anyway, I think I’ve been doing a good tournament. And in the finals, anything can happen. If I win, great. If not, I been playing a great tournament and I will be happy anyways.”

Tired Nishikori no match

Djokovic dropped a set in each of his first two rounds and was one of the players who struggled with the unbreathable conditions inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. But he has been on a major roll since then.

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He defeated No. 26 Richard Gasquet, unseeded Joao Sousa and John Millman and No. 21 Nishikori in straight sets through his next four rounds.

The matchup with Nishikori has always been a favorable one for him. Whatever Nishikori does well, Djokovic does more of, and better.

The Serb now has won their last 14 completed meetings, including a four-setter in the quarterfinals on his way to the Wimbledon title in July.

“I knew that coming into the match if I managed to sustain that speed of his shots, so to say, the game style, that I’ll have my chance kind of to break through and to make him feel uncomfortable and start making errors. That’s what happened,” said Djokovic, who called the match “really, really good” from his side. 

“I thought in the important moments I came up with some good second serves, some good first serves. And I was returning well. I was putting constantly pressure on him, trying to move him around the court, take away the rhythm from him, not give him the same look always.”

survive

It didn’t help Nishikori that he appeared to tweak his leg or knee early on, on a fairly harmless looking trip to the net. Nishikori attributed that misstep to cumulative fatigue. The 28-year-old also had a draining five-set win over Marin Cilic in the previous round to recover from.

But when Djokovic is playing as well as he has been in New York since those early minor bumps, there isn’t much anyone can do to derail him. The 31-year-old was literally firing on every single cylinder he had on Friday night.

“He was playing very solid everything: serve, return, groundstrokes. He was playing aggressive. Yeah, I didn’t have (a lot of) energy to stay with him. He was hitting, you know, side to side. Yeah, wasn’t easy to stay with him tonight,” Nishikori said. 

“I think I was just tired from last couple matches. I was try to give 100 per cent, but he was playing very solid. Maybe if he wasn’t Novak, I might have chance to play little better. But he was, you know, playing great tennis today. Yeah, very credit to him.”

Djokovic in rare US Open territory

With the win, Djokovic jumps into a tie with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as he prepares to play his eighth US Open men’s singles final. Eight is tops in the open era; Jimmy Connors and Roger Federer have made seven finals.

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He also officially qualified for the ATP Tour Finals. Federer also qualified; the two join Nadal.

Djokovic stood at No. 76 in the race to London before Indian Wells, No. 25 before the French Open. If he wins on Sunday, he’ll be No. 2 behind Nadal. if he loses, he’ll be No. 3, just 65 points behind del Potro.

“Probably seeing the results, consistency of the results I’ve had here, probably has been my most successful Grand Slam. Of course, I won the Australian Open six times, never lost finals there. But I think I’ve played more than 10 semifinals here. It’s definitely one of my favorite tournaments to play because of the conditions and because of the fact that I’ve played so well in each year that I keep on coming back,” Djokovic said.

“I know that I feel very comfortable here. It just allows me to feel more comfortable playing, starting the tournament and going through it. Yeah, I mean, I think I have two finals won and five losses. But, you know, hopefully I can get one better in few days.”

Nadal outlasts Thiem in US Open epic

NEW YORK – Arthur Ashe Stadium is probably still buzzing Wednesday morning  after Rafael Nadal and his natural-born successor, Dominic Thiem, played to a 2:02 a.m. finish.

And, after the 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), four hour and 49-minute marathon won by the world No. 1 and defending US Open champion, you could clearly see why teenagers and young 20-somethings are having so much time breaking through on the Grand Slam stage.

The sustained level of virtuosity in this one, and the sheer physicality, were off the charts. It’s just not a job for teenaged prodigies any more.

Even as the match approached five hours and neared 2 a.m. on another unbearably humid night in New York, the level was sustained.

The racket-head speed, the scrambling, the sheer will and effort produced by the two players seven years apart in age, never wavered. Never.

These two had met 10 times over the last five years – all on their preferred clay. This one, on a hard court in the city that never sleeps, was their best.

Nadal to himself: “Wake up!”

Nadal won just seven points in the first set as a blinding, brilliant start by Thiem squared off with a nervous one by Nadal.

“When these things happens, normally I am not the guy that look at the string or look at the box or look at the racket. I am the guy to look at myself. Nothing about the string. Nothing about the tension. Just about my negative level in the beginning of the match. I needed to move forward, to change that dynamic, and I did. But the first step to change that dynamic is not find an excuse on the racquet or on the string or on something that is not the true,” Nadal said. 

“The only true is that you have to do things better to be able to fight for the point and fight for the match, no? I am critic with myself. That’s all. I did a very bad set. He played well. When was 4-0, the only thing that was in my mind was, ‘Okay, finish that set and just try to be ready for the beginning of the next.”

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The two combatants despaired at times. But they never gave up.

If those two forces had continued to butt heads, it would have been over quickly. But this is Nadal, who will spill every last drop of sweat he can manufacture on the court before he heads out the door.

Thiem served to take a 2-1 set lead. But he couldn’t close the deal, and Nadal snuck out a set he perhaps shouldn’t have won.

In the fourth set, the Spaniard had love-40 on Thiem’s serve at 5-5 – and couldn’t convert. Somehow, Thiem held. And then Nadal played an incredibly poor tiebreak to push the match the distance.

“That love 40 in the 5-4 breaked my heart. But I just keep going,” Nadal said.

It was time for the (relative) youngster to waver.

Drama goes the distance

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Thiem had his chances to go up two sets to one. But as the match went the distance, he held firm – until the final point.

But Thiem, who turned 25 the previous day, is no longer a kid who can’t stand up to the challenge. He’s a workhorse, so much stronger than he was a few years ago with the resultant effect on the power in his strokes. He’s a brilliant clay-court talent who emerged during this US Open as an exciting hard-court player as well, after a rather quiet summer.

He gave Nadal everything he could handle – until it all ended, suddenly, dramatically, on an overhead the Austrian missed so badly, no one could truly believe it happened.

“It’s going to be stuck in my mind forever. Forever I’m going to remember this match, for sure. But, I mean, it’s cruel sometimes tennis, you know, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one,” Thiem said. “I mean, I would say the first really epic match I played. I played some good ones before, but not that long, not that long against the great guys on the Grand Slam stage.”

On the biggest stage, not on clay, Thiem shines

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The New York crowd was introduced to Thiem as well, in a formal way.

He’s a top 10 player with 10 career titles, and a French Open finalist this year. But this was his first time past the fourth round, in his fifth attempt in New York. They might have remembered him from a year ago, when he was up two sets to none against Juan Martin del Potro in the fourth round, only to lose in five sets. But the 2018 edition of Thiem is one who is ready to win majors, even on a hard court.

As much as it was a pro-Nadal crowd, there’s no doubt the fans were absolutely wowed by some of the virtuoso winners hit by the Austrian, when he seemed he had no time at all to even load up and fire. He charmed them, completely.

Thiem also gets the seal of approval from Nadal, who recognizes in Thiem some of the qualities that he values in a fellow competitor and, indeed, in himself. He had just the right words as the two enjoyed a touching moment at the met.

“You are good. Keep going,” Nadal said he told Thiem. “Because he’s young, he has plenty of time to win big tournaments. And he has everything. He’s a fighter. He has a great attitude, that’s the most important thing.”

Best-ever efforts on the hard courts

The 11-time French Open champion has become a complete player on the hard courts now. And you wonder how many more hard-court Slams he might have won had he figured out the formula a little sooner.

There was that one year, in 2010, when he appeared in New York and started serving 130 mph. But that was a mere blip. It has taken these intervening years to get the recipe right.

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On another humid night – tough, but not impossible, Nadal said – he pretty much was his own laundry-generating service.

On clay, he knows exactly what to do. And on grass, he long ago shortened his swings and looked to move forward – as if he understood that this was a completely different surface, and he just had to do things differently.

Perhaps, because it was so different, the polar opposite of his beloved clay, it was almost easier to think differently.

The hard courts have been a bigger challenge for him. Part of it is physical, as the surface is tough on his knees. But much of it is metaphysical. Instead of bring his grass-court game onto the hard courts, he spent many years trying to make his clay-court game work on them instead. 

Now, with the hard courts slowed down to a crawl (that’s especially true in New York this year, a surface that had always been quicker in the past), and with the wisdom of experience, he’s figuring it out. 

Net-rushing Nadal

Nadal came to the net over 50 times against Thiem. And he’s no longer reluctantr to hit his backhand down the line when he needs to. It wasn’t so many years ago that he could barely pass the service line with that shot – especially in tight moments.

On Friday, Nadal will have a Slam rematch with del Potro, a Flushing semifinal bookend to the five-set thriller they played in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in July.

They will now have met in four of the last five Grand Slams (Australia this year being the exception). Nadal has won them all. 

Back in 2009, del Potro gave Nadal just six games as he won his first and only Grand Slam title. A year ago in New York, Nadal won in four sets in the semifinals.

“Always the passion to keep going, to play one more point, to save one more ball. And alway the same history: point by point, game by game, set by set and match by match.  Keep going always,” Nadal said during an on-court interview that had him looking distinctly uncomfortable, perhaps on the edge of cramping, but buzzed beyond belief. 

Always, one more,  you can – a little bit more. That’s the only way that I am able to be where I am today,” he said.

Photos: A … warm Rafa warmup

TORONTO – It’s been the summer of the hot and sweaty.

And it continues in Toronto this week, where the humidity has made the players – and the courts – a drippy mess.

Even on Wednesday, a long period of rain did nothing to drop the humidity level.

And so as Rafael Nadal finally got on the practice court to warm up for his Rogers Cup opening match against Benoit Paire, it got a little … clingy.

Nadal’s a heavy sweater at the best of times. But on days like these, you wonder how he doesn’t jump out of his skin after 20 minutes in a shirt like that.

He managed to finish his warmup before another wave of rain came, while opponent Benoit Paire’s warmup was cut short by the steady downpour.

Here’s what Nadal looked like.

 

Not pretty, but straight sets

On the court, despite a few moments on his own serve, Nadal wasn’t particularly troubled by the mercurial (but less liquidy) Paire. Paire could break him, but he couldn’t hold his own serve to consolidate it.

The 6-2, 6-3 score made it seem a little more routine than it actually was.

The red shirt was probably just as soaked. But it didn’t show up as much.

Warm

He was surprisingly pumped after that victory, even though he was 3-0 against him and hadn’t lost a set. All of those matches were on clay, though.

Frantic Friday at Wimbledon – Choices, Choices, Choices

It was Friday the 13th. So it wasn’t a huge surprise that a few wacky events took place at Wimbledon.

But what transpired, from 1 p.m. when John Isner and Kevin Anderson walked onto Centre Court until 11:05 p.m., when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic walked off with unfinished business, was beyond anyone’s imagination.

Chapter 5 is called Choices, Choices, Choices

WIMBLEDON – We’ll have to assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no way for the All England Club to get special dispensation from the Merton Borough Council to break curfew – just this once.

Because a 1 a.m. finish for Djokovic vs. Nadal Friday night into Saturday would have been a better solution for all concerned.

The winner of the match could have slept in Saturday, perhaps had a light hit, a lot of treatment. And then, on Sunday, play the final.

As it is, one of them had to play late Friday, relatively early Saturday – and again on Sunday, where he will face the equally exhausted Kevin Anderson.

Anderson spent over 11 hours on court from Wednesday through Friday, just in two extra-time matches against John Isner and Roger Federer.

11:03 p.m.: the end

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If the All England Club had the option somehow, and didn’t exercise it, it did two of its illustrious former champions a disservice.

As it was, they returned to the court just 14 hours later to finish where they left off Friday night, when Djokovic squeezed out the third-set tiebreak to lead two sets to one.

The decision to start their semifinal – which kicked off around 8 p.m. because of the length of the Anderson-Isner marathon – under the roof was up to the referee, Andrew Jarrett.

It made sense, because there wasn’t going to be much daylight left, and better to take the time to close the roof and get the air-conditioning systems adjusted during the break after the first match.

It was going to have to happen anyway at some point, and time was precious.

The decision to resume on a beautiful, sunny Saturday with the roof closed was also Jarrett’s. Except, if both players agreed to play “outdoors”, with the roof open, at what is an outdoor tournament, it could have been changed even if it wasn’t a hard and fast rule.

One wanted to, one did not, is the general consensus although there’s no official confirmation from any of the parties involved at this point. 

No. 1 Court option not an option

There certainly is precedent at Wimbledon for a men’s semifinal to be played on No. 1 Court.

We tend to forget all the years when rain played havoc with the schedule, often threatening to prevent the tournament from finishing on time. And a couple of times, it actually did.

But as former finalist Andy Roddick pointed out Friday night on Twitter, he’s been there.

Once he was moved over to finish. On the second occasion, he played the entire match there.

Roddick celebrates after beating Mario Ancic on No. 1 Court on the second Friday of Wimbledon 2004.

Both times, he won, and ended up losing to Roger Federer in the final.

But Djokovic vs. Nadal in 2018 is not Roddick vs. Ancic, or Roddick vs. Johansson a dozen years ago.

No offense to those two fine players.

There was virtually no chance in Hades the tournament would move Nadal and Djokovic to No. 1 Court to finish their match.

Beyond the television considerations, the players likely would have both raised a ruckus.

It would have eliminated the roof-or-no-roof choice, though.

Had the second semifinal featured, say, Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov, you can speculate it might have been a different story. Had the women’s final not featured Williams, it might have been another story again.

Maybe.

The women pay the price – again

The way the schedule panned out, part of it no one’s fault, is a tough one for the men.

But it’s an even tougher one for the women.

Seven-time champion Serena Williams and two-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber will reprise their 2016 final.

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Serena Williams beat Angelique Kerber in a final women’s final in 2016, the last time Williams played. They started on time.

Except they had no clue when they would play. They couldn’t be sure when to eat, when to warm up, when to do anything.

And that was especially key because of the lack of a fifth-set tiebreak for the men.

At precisely 1 p.m. Saturday, when they were due to walk on Centre Court with their flower bouquets, Nadal was just wrapping up the fourth set against Djokovic.

Didn’t it seem as though we were beyond this back in the 1990s, when they finally did away with the facetiously-named Super Saturday at the US Open?

For a couple of decades, the women were an afterthought. They were the white creme between the two Oreo cookies as CBS dictated they be scheduled between the two men’s semifinals on the second Saturday.

Mercifully, that finally ended.

Serena and her sister Venus had everything to do with this when, back in 2001, it was decided that they could headline a night session with their significant star power.

The end of CBS’s longstanding contract as the event’s main broadcaster also allowed for more flexibility.

And then, the fact that someone finally decided that having the men play best-of-five sets on the Saturday, and come right back on the Sunday afternoon and play another best-of-five sets for a major title didn’t make for optimal tennis.

Well, maybe they considered that. Maybe.

Super Saturday to the max

The epic moment in Super Saturday history came on Sept. 8, 1984. Every match went the distance and every player on court that day was a champion.

First off was a legends’ match that began at 11 a.m. when Stan Smith defeated John Newcombe. Ironically, CBS had requested that extra match because the previous year’s Super Saturday had featured three blowouts.

Then came the first men’s semi: Ivan Lendl defeated Pat Cash 3–6, 6–3, 6–4, 6–7 (5–7), 7–6 (7–4). (Thank goodness for the fifth-set tiebreak).

Then, finally, the legendary Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova came on to play the women’s singles final.

Navratilova won that one, 4–6, 6–4, 6–4.

Then, closing in on 7:30 p.m., bitter rivals John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors finally took the court for the second men’s semi.

McEnroe won that one, 6–4, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, 6–3. It all ended at 11:16 p.m.

Women’s doubles also a casualty

With Nadal and Djokovic taking priority on Centre Court, one of the other finals was bumped off.

Of course, it was the women’s doubles final between Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova and Nicole Melichar and Kveta Peschke.

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They had been scheduled after the women’s singles final and the best-of-five sets men’s doubles final.

That’s long enough to wait (and with the men’s doubles also not having a deciding-set tiebreak, who knows how long).

But with the change, they have been relegated to “Court to be determined – not before 5 p.m.” status along with the far less consequential legends match featuring Thomas Enqvist, Thomas Johansson, Tommy Haas and Mark Philippoussis.

So they don’t know when they’re going to play. And they don’t know where.

It’s thin soup. Even given the extraordinary circumstances, you feel somehow that the tournament could have made better choices.