Nadal breezes past Isner to set up 'dangerous' Shapovalov rematch

Rafael Nadal is safely through to the third round of the Italian Open after beating John Isner 6-3 6-1.

After Isner squandered the opportunity to break midway in the seventh game, Nadal took control of the match and was able to comfortably breeze past the American in one hour and 16 minutes.

Nadal will play Shapovalov next in a repeat of their last-16 encounter last year which the Spaniard won in a thrilling three-setter, coming back from a set down and saving match points.

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“I finished better than I started [against Isner] without a doubt,” the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion said afterwards in his on-court interview.

“At the beginning of the match I think I was not good for me. Even he had some chances on the return. Two break points and two not difficult balls.

“I was in his hands at that moment. Lucky he missed those couple of shots then I was able to hold the break.

“The match then changed with the first set in the pocket and with the first break of the second everything changed.”

On his match against Shapovalov, he said: “Last year [in Rome] was a joke. The match I saved against him I was super lucky. I know how dangerous he is and I need to play better than today.

“After a while without being on court it’s another victory. Now tomorrow is a chance to play against one of the best players in the world and another good test.

“I need to build again the things after a tough stop. That is what I am trying. To stay with the right attitude. Let’s see if I am able to make it happen.”

It was a closely-fought opening to the match and the first break point opportunities of the match arrived for Isner at 3-3, but Nadal was able to rescue both of them and it proved a turning point in the match.

There was more misfortune to come for Isner as Nadal sealed the pivotal break in the very next game after Isner hit a limp volley, which should have been a winner, into the net.

Nadal then reeled off four points in a row on his serve to wrap up the opener in 43 minutes.

With Isner looking flat, Nadal went a break up immediately in the second set when the American produced another unforced error to put the Spaniard in control.

Nadal had only hit one unforced error in the second set before going a double break up to make it 4-1 when Isner fired another forehand into the net. Nadal won the next two games, sealing the match with a vicious forehand winner down the line.

Shapovalov clashes with umpire and crowd in fiery win over Sonego

– – –

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Nadal breezes past Isner to set up 'dangerous' Shapovalov rematch

Rafael Nadal is safely through to the third round of the Italian Open after beating John Isner 6-3 6-1.

After Isner squandered the opportunity to break midway in the seventh game, Nadal took control of the match and was able to comfortably breeze past the American in one hour and 16 minutes.

Nadal will play Shapovalov next in a repeat of their last-16 encounter last year which the Spaniard won in a thrilling three-setter, coming back from a set down and saving match points.

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“I finished better than I started [against Isner] without a doubt,” the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion said afterwards in his on-court interview.

“At the beginning of the match I think I was not good for me. Even he had some chances on the return. Two break points and two not difficult balls.

“I was in his hands at that moment. Lucky he missed those couple of shots then I was able to hold the break.

“The match then changed with the first set in the pocket and with the first break of the second everything changed.”

On his match against Shapovalov, he said: “Last year [in Rome] was a joke. The match I saved against him I was super lucky. I know how dangerous he is and I need to play better than today.

“After a while without being on court it’s another victory. Now tomorrow is a chance to play against one of the best players in the world and another good test.

“I need to build again the things after a tough stop. That is what I am trying. To stay with the right attitude. Let’s see if I am able to make it happen.”

It was a closely-fought opening to the match and the first break point opportunities of the match arrived for Isner at 3-3, but Nadal was able to rescue both of them and it proved a turning point in the match.

There was more misfortune to come for Isner as Nadal sealed the pivotal break in the very next game after Isner hit a limp volley, which should have been a winner, into the net.

Nadal then reeled off four points in a row on his serve to wrap up the opener in 43 minutes.

With Isner looking flat, Nadal went a break up immediately in the second set when the American produced another unforced error to put the Spaniard in control.

Nadal had only hit one unforced error in the second set before going a double break up to make it 4-1 when Isner fired another forehand into the net. Nadal won the next two games, sealing the match with a vicious forehand winner down the line.

Shapovalov clashes with umpire and crowd in fiery win over Sonego

– – –

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Nadal breezes past Isner to set up 'dangerous' Shapovalov rematch

Rafael Nadal is safely through to the third round of the Italian Open after beating John Isner 6-3 6-1.

After Isner squandered the opportunity to break midway in the seventh game, Nadal took control of the match and was able to comfortably breeze past the American in one hour and 16 minutes.

Nadal will play Shapovalov next in a repeat of their last-16 encounter last year which the Spaniard won in a thrilling three-setter, coming back from a set down and saving match points.

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YESTERDAY AT 12:15

“I finished better than I started [against Isner] without a doubt,” the 21-time Grand Slam singles champion said afterwards in his on-court interview.

“At the beginning of the match I think I was not good for me. Even he had some chances on the return. Two break points and two not difficult balls.

“I was in his hands at that moment. Lucky he missed those couple of shots then I was able to hold the break.

“The match then changed with the first set in the pocket and with the first break of the second everything changed.”

On his match against Shapovalov, he said: “Last year [in Rome] was a joke. The match I saved against him I was super lucky. I know how dangerous he is and I need to play better than today.

“After a while without being on court it’s another victory. Now tomorrow is a chance to play against one of the best players in the world and another good test.

“I need to build again the things after a tough stop. That is what I am trying. To stay with the right attitude. Let’s see if I am able to make it happen.”

It was a closely-fought opening to the match and the first break point opportunities of the match arrived for Isner at 3-3, but Nadal was able to rescue both of them and it proved a turning point in the match.

There was more misfortune to come for Isner as Nadal sealed the pivotal break in the very next game after Isner hit a limp volley, which should have been a winner, into the net.

Nadal then reeled off four points in a row on his serve to wrap up the opener in 43 minutes.

With Isner looking flat, Nadal went a break up immediately in the second set when the American produced another unforced error to put the Spaniard in control.

Nadal had only hit one unforced error in the second set before going a double break up to make it 4-1 when Isner fired another forehand into the net. Nadal won the next two games, sealing the match with a vicious forehand winner down the line.

Shapovalov clashes with umpire and crowd in fiery win over Sonego

– – –

Stream the 2022 French Open live and on-demand on discovery+

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Nadal Blunts Isner To Kick-Start Rome Bid

Rafael Nadal’s bid for an 11th crown at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia enjoyed a smooth start on Wednesday afternoon as the legendary Spaniard blunted the big-serving John Isner to seal a 6-3, 6-1 second-round win at the ATP Masters 1000 event.

Nadal has been untouchable at the Foro Italico for much of his career and he immediately looked settled in his return games against Isner, countering the American’s huge serve with his trademark spinning groundstrokes. Although the unseeded Isner competed well, he struggled to recover any momentum after letting slip two break points at 3-3 in the opening set as Nadal dominated the second to move to a 69-7 match record in the Italian capital.

Nadal identified his hold in the seventh game of the first set as the key turning point in his eighth tour-level win over Isner. “I finished better than how I started, without a doubt,” said the Spaniard after the match. “The beginning of the match was not good for me.

“He had some chances on the return and had two break points. [He had] two not difficult balls so I was in his hands at that moment. I was lucky that he missed those shots and then I was able to break. Then the match changed, of course. With the first set on the board, and having the break in the first game of the second [set], everything changed.”

The win continued Nadal’s comeback to competitive action after he reached the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open last week following a six-week layoff due to a rib injury. Having lost to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in Spain, the win over Isner ensured Nadal has still never lost consecutive matches on clay, with Wednesday’s victory taking him to 44-0 in matches following a defeat on the surface.

An evenly matched opening set hinged on the seventh and eighth games, as Nadal saved two break points to hold before breaking the American for 5-3. He served out to clinch the set as Nadal began to up his level to the delight of a passionate Italian crowd.

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Nadal’s return game continued to look in good shape against former World No. 8 Isner, and the 36-time Masters 1000 champion broke the World No. 27 three times in the second set to complete a comfortable 76-minute victory. The win was built on relentless consistency from Nadal, who made just three unforced errors in the match.

“I just focussed on myself,” added Nadal when asked about his second-set improvement. “I focussed on trying to keep going. I knew I had to do things better than I had done, and I need to practise to try and do it better and better.”

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The Spaniard next faces another North American star in the third round, 13th seed Denis Shapovalov. The pair met in a memorable semi-final in Rome last year, when Nadal saved two match points before prevailing over the Canadian in a deciding-set tie-break after three hours, 27 minutes.

“Last year was a joke, the match that I saved here against him,” said Nadal. “[I was] super lucky. I know how dangerous he is, I need to play well, of course. I need to play better than today, but after a while without being on court it is another victory and I have the chance again to play against one of the best players in the world.

“I need to build things again after a tough stoppage and that’s what I am trying now. I just need to stay with the right attitude, and let’s see if I am able to make that happen.”

Nadal Blunts Isner To Kick-Start Rome Bid

Rafael Nadal’s bid for an 11th crown at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia enjoyed a smooth start on Wednesday afternoon as the legendary Spaniard blunted the big-serving John Isner to seal a 6-3, 6-1 second-round win at the ATP Masters 1000 event.

Nadal has been untouchable at the Foro Italico for much of his career and he immediately looked settled in his return games against Isner, countering the American’s huge serve with his trademark spinning groundstrokes. Although the unseeded Isner competed well, he struggled to recover any momentum after letting slip two break points at 3-3 in the opening set as Nadal dominated the second to move to a 69-7 match record in the Italian capital.

Nadal identified his hold in the seventh game of the first set as the key turning point in his eighth tour-level win over Isner. “I finished better than how I started, without a doubt,” said the Spaniard after the match. “The beginning of the match was not good for me.

“He had some chances on the return and had two break points. [He had] two not difficult balls so I was in his hands at that moment. I was lucky that he missed those shots and then I was able to break. Then the match changed, of course. With the first set on the board, and having the break in the first game of the second [set], everything changed.”

The win continued Nadal’s comeback to competitive action after he reached the quarter-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open last week following a six-week layoff due to a rib injury. Having lost to eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz in Spain, the win over Isner ensured Nadal has still never lost consecutive matches on clay, with Wednesday’s victory taking him to 44-0 in matches following a defeat on the surface.

An evenly matched opening set hinged on the seventh and eighth games, as Nadal saved two break points to hold before breaking the American for 5-3. He served out to clinch the set as Nadal began to up his level to the delight of a passionate Italian crowd.

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Nadal’s return game continued to look in good shape against former World No. 8 Isner, and the 36-time Masters 1000 champion broke the World No. 27 three times in the second set to complete a comfortable 76-minute victory. The win was built on relentless consistency from Nadal, who made just three unforced errors in the match.

“I just focussed on myself,” added Nadal when asked about his second-set improvement. “I focussed on trying to keep going. I knew I had to do things better than I had done, and I need to practise to try and do it better and better.”

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The Spaniard next faces another North American star in the third round, 13th seed Denis Shapovalov. The pair met in a memorable semi-final in Rome last year, when Nadal saved two match points before prevailing over the Canadian in a deciding-set tie-break after three hours, 27 minutes.

“Last year was a joke, the match that I saved here against him,” said Nadal. “[I was] super lucky. I know how dangerous he is, I need to play well, of course. I need to play better than today, but after a while without being on court it is another victory and I have the chance again to play against one of the best players in the world.

“I need to build things again after a tough stoppage and that’s what I am trying now. I just need to stay with the right attitude, and let’s see if I am able to make that happen.”

'Really tough' – Thiem needs time on road to recovery, as Nadal and Wawrinka can testify

As Dominic Thiem continues his comeback from a wrist injury that sidelined him for 10 months, the Austrian is dealing with a wide range of emotions; from feeling frustrated by his current form to being positive about the improvements he is making every day.

One thing Thiem is relying on is his belief that worst part of this whole experience is fully behind him.

“What everybody is telling me, also from my team, is that the toughest period is done. Because the toughest period was definitely the process after I started to play again,” Thiem said in Madrid last week after losing his opener to Andy Murray.

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“It was only setbacks. Go on the court, leaving five minutes after, calling the doctor, calling the wrist specialist, the hand specialist, then start to practice 25 minutes, 30 minutes.

“That was the toughest part. And now, of course, not playing well when I know what I’m capable of or what I was capable of, it’s really tough, but I always need to keep telling myself that the toughest time is behind and now we’re talking about tennis things.

“We don’t ask every five minutes if I have pain, if the wrist is fine. We’re only talking about improving my tennis and that’s very positive and this I have to keep in mind for another while I guess.”

‘Smart tennis’ ensured victory over Thiem at Madrid Open – Murray

Staying positive

Since he returned to tennis for his first tournament – a Challenger in Marbella – end of March, Thiem has lost all four matches he has contested.

In Madrid, he lost to Murray in straight sets before shifting his focus to Rome, where he takes on home favourite Fabio Fognini on Monday evening.

“There was improvement but at the same time obviously big frustration as well,” he said of his match against Murray.

“Anyway I have to see the positives, that’s how I also went into that match. I think compared to Estoril, compared to Belgrade, was another step forward today but there’s still a lot of lack of consistency.”

Thiem doesn’t want to dwell too much on the past and is more concerned with the present. He says he will continue to keep his expectations low until the second half of the season begins and is bracing himself for a challenging period on the tennis court.

“Now, another process comes, probably a process where I have to take some more defeats, early defeats probably and some tough weeks are ahead of me,” said the 2020 US Open champion.

“I have to spend a lot of time on court, a lot of time in the gym, just to keep improving every day and try to get back to my 100 percent as fast as possible.”

Nadal: Give Thiem time

Rafael Nadal, who has had his fair share of injury setbacks but has managed to bounce back from each and every one of them in tremendous fashion, has urged everyone not to rush Thiem, and to realise that every case is unique.

“It’ not the moment to put pressure on Dominic, and is not fair to compare about me,” said Nadal.

“It’s true that the way that I was able to come back a lot of times in my tennis career is something special, and is not something usual, because when you are coming back from a long period of time without playing, the normal thing is have a process, and that’s what Dominic is going through.

“I don’t have any doubt that if he’s healthy he will be back this week, next week, in Roland Garros, if not in Wimbledon or after, no? It’s a matter of time. If he really has the determination, the passion to keep going, I don’t have any doubt that he will recover 100 per cent the level.”

A mental challenge

Stan Wawrinka, who claimed his first tour-level victory in 15 months on Monday in Rome, had a gruelling battle with injury that kept him out of action for nearly a year and a half (he played just six matches last season).

Wawrinka returned to competition at the same Challenger event where Thiem made his comeback, and a lot of parallels were drawn between them that week.

“I think every injury is completely different. We all have a different mindset to come back. The reality is that it takes time. You need to accept it. You need to do the right work. He is a hard-working player. He will come back for sure. But it takes time,” said the Swiss three-time major champion on Monday.

“It’s not only about the fitness side. It’s not only about the tennis game. It’s also about the mental part. You have to connect everything together to be able to play your best tennis again.”

Massu: We’re ready for everything

Thiem’s coach, Nicolas Massu, has no doubt his charge will recover his form, but explained how there are many details that require time before they come naturally to a player in a match.

Decision-making, timing and re-learning patterns are just some of the things mentioned by Massu, who recalls how just a few months ago, he was in Miami feeding soft balls to Thiem after yet another setback with the wrist.

“It’s a challenge to get back to his former level,” the Chilean coach told Eurosport in an interview.

“He was No.3 (No.5) in the world when he got injured in Mallorca (last June), fighting at the very top of this game. I believe he needs only time but of course we need to accept that at the beginning it’s going to be complicated, not only in the results but to find the whole game.

“But he’s a very smart player, a very explosive player, he works so hard, he listens a lot and I think he’s on the right way.

“We’re ready for everything. If we don’t find the results really fast, it’s going to be the next week or whatever, that’s okay, we accept it, because it’s part of the recovery.

“What you cannot lose now is to believe in all these kind of things and to analyse that for 10 months you didn’t have the chance to stay on the court, to walk on court and to play tournaments and now I think it’s something really positive that he’s playing without pain and now we start to compete.”

The good news for Thiem is that he believes he can play the game the same way he always used to play it. Some injuries force players to alter the way they moved or hit a specific shot in order to adapt to their new physical condition but Thiem assures that is not the case for him.

“I want to play the way I’ve always played and if I’m not able to play that way I think I can retire because there’s no chance to fulfil my goals anymore,” said the 28-year-old Thiem.

“It’s the goal for the second half of the season, to be able to control the game like I did before, to play with this high intensity. I think I’m definitely capable of doing that and also the wrist is fine for that, so I don’t want to change anything.”

Murray defeats Thiem at Madrid Open in battle between two injury-prone stars

‘We cannot be spectacular before we are regular’

Massu sees a more mature Thiem has emerged out of this long injury lay-off.

In his absence, the tennis world kept on spinning and stars have sprung onto the scene, like the sensational Carlos Alcaraz, and others went through turbulent periods, like Novak Djokovic missing the Australian swing, Indian Wells and Miami due to his vaccination status.

“Today we have to not to think too much about the other players, we need to think a bit more on his game, to feel confident again, to find a way, to play with order, to find again the pattern of game,” said Massu.

“Dominic is a guy, when he’s confident, he can do unbelievable things.

“Now, the most important thing is to try to find the basic things again, where he feels comfortable, to be regular, not to be spectacular in this moment. We cannot be spectacular before that we are regular.”

The team’s goals are very clear, in Massu’s mind.

“If you ask me about our short-term it’s to arrive at the French Open better than we are today,” said Massu.

“Of course the second part of the year we’re going to try to find better results and everything. We need to try to do our best in the second part of the year so we can be in the top again in 2023.”

– – –

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'A new car always looks better' – Nadal admits Alcaraz provides a welcome upgrade

Rafael Nadal appreciates the days of him being the exciting Spanish wonderkid are far behind him as the new kid on the block, Carlos Alcaraz, continues to take all the headlines in the build up to the French Open.

Nadal was beaten by his 19-year-old compatriot at the Madrid Open last week, before Alcaraz went on to see off Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev on his way to lifting the trophy.

The teenager has decided to sit out of the Italian Open in Rome, where Nadal is hoping to defend his title and win the tournament for the 11th time.

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Despite not even being in famous old city, Alcaraz’s incredible form still has everyone talking, and Nadal admits it is time for an upgrade.

“First, I think he is young, he is new and all the new things are much more interesting than older things. Without a doubt, when you see a new car, always looks better.

“When you see a new phone, always looks better than the old ones. So, it’s something that is normal in this life. I can’t complain at all about that. At the same time, I am happy to have somebody like him from my country achieving all the things that he is achieving”, he said.

Alcaraz will miss out on Rome due to an ankle injury – choosing to rest up to ensure he is ready to go when the next Grand Slam at Roland Garros kicks off.

Nadal can sympathise, having just recovered from a rib injury which took him out of action for six weeks, while an ongoing foot issue continues to plague the 21-time major winner.

“Of course, at my age, when you start having more problems than what you can manage, of course it is tough. Body issues, pains, you can manage that. The problem is when you start to feel that with all the things that’s going through your body, you can’t be competitive enough to fight for the things that really keep exciting you”, he said.

However, Nadal is still enjoying the sport, saying, “I like what I do, honestly. I am not playing anymore for things outside of my happiness and for things outside of my personal motivation.”

‘I’m ready to win a Grand Slam’ after ‘best week ever’ – Alcaraz

“For the moment I am happy. It is true that I went through, again, a tough period of time. But I am here to enjoy and to give myself a chance to play well here in Rome”, he said.

Nadal will face either John Isner or Francisco Cerundolo in his opening match of the Italian Open. Victories over Miomir Kecmanovic and David Goffin in Madrid have stood the 35-year-old in good stead heading to Foro Italico.

I am happy doing what I am doing. I still feel competitive when I am healthy enough.

However, after crashing out against Alcaraz, Nadal wants to see improvements, but knows, given his recent injury setbacks, that he must give himself time.

“I need to keep improving. In terms of movement, in terms of being more fitter, in terms of reading again the game. In general terms, (it was) not a negative week in Madrid, even if the tournament is probably the most difficult for me”, he said.

He cannot wait to get going in Rome, saying, “It’s a place that I love so much, amazing memories. I’ll try my best, as I do always. I hope to be ready to play a little bit better than last week. Let’s see.”

– – –

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There was an amusing exchange after Carlos Alcaraz beat Novak Djokovic in a thrilling Madrid Open semi-final when the red-hot 19-year-old was asked who the best player in the world is.

“Well, Djokovic, because he’s No. 1,” was Alcaraz’s answer.

Pressed again on who is the best player in the world at this moment, Alcaraz said: “I’m not going to tell you that. The one that I know, I’m not going to tell you. I was able to beat No. 1, but still I’m ranked No. 9. I still have eight players in front of me to be No. 1.”

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Eight is now down to five after Alcaraz won his second Masters title in Madrid. And any debate over his current standing in the men’s game seems less challenging to answer.

“Right now you are the best player in the world,” said Zverev after getting outplayed by Alcaraz in the Madrid Open final.
Since losing his opener in Monte Carlo, Alcaraz, 19, has won 10 matches in a row to secure titles in Barcelona and Madrid. Even though he beat both Nadal and Djokovic in Madrid, his demolition of Zverev was arguably Alcaraz’s most impressive performance. Zverev, who blasted the ATP afterwards for “disgraceful” scheduling that left him short of sleep, has won Madrid twice, including last year, and had never lost on the main court. He was completely outplayed by Alcaraz in a one-sided 62-minute final.

The stats behind Alcaraz’s stunning season are incredible:

  • Youngest player to beat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
  • First player to beat Nadal and Djokovic in same clay event
  • Youngest top-10 player since Nadal in 2005
  • Youngest top-20 player since Andrei Medvedev in 1993
  • Second-youngest player to win two Masters titles (Nadal, 18, in 2005)
  • Youngest player to win five titles since Nadal in 2004-05
  • Youngest player since 1990 to beat three top-five players at same event
  • A 5-0 record in finals

Has Alcaraz elevated himself into favourite for the French Open?

There’s little to count against him, except he hasn’t yet done it at a Grand Slam. He’s won some long matches on the ATP Tour, including the two longest this year, but two-week majors with potential five-set battles against Nadal and Djokovic are another challenge. Alcaraz has only played in the main draw at five Grand Slams and has only made it past the third round once. Few players have won a major at the sixth attempt, although Nadal did so at the French Open in 2005.

What’s so impressive about Alcaraz is that his game already seems to have it all. When he started making waves last year his raw power and attacking approach stood out. Add to that arguably the best drop shot on tour, quick movement around the court, a strong net game, and a smart mind, and you have a seriously good player. The power is there still – against Nadal and Djokovic he hit a combined 88 winners compared to 34 from his opponents – but Alcaraz is also thinking more about how to win points. He caused Djokovic big problems with his kick serve and was hugely successful when serve and volleying in Madrid, winning 17 of 18 points. He also has the hunger to continue to get better.

Zverev takes aim at ATP scheduling following loss to Alcaraz in Madrid Open final

“I think that I have to improve everything still. I have always said that you can improve everything. You never reach a limit,” he said after winning in Madrid.

“Look at Rafa, Djokovic, [Roger] Federer, all of them improve and they have things to improve. That’s why they are so good, and that’s why they are so much [of the] time up there, because they don’t stop. They keep on working and improving.

“That’s what I want to do. I want to keep on progressing. I have really good shots. I don’t say that I don’t have them, but I know that I can improve them and they can be even better.”

Just as players have had to work out ways to try and beat Nadal and Djokovic in the past, now the two greats will have to study how they can conquer Alcaraz. Neither will be sitting still after Madrid.

Nadal and Djokovic are set to play this week in Rome, where either one or both of them have reached the final every year since 2005, while Alcaraz will be taking a week off as he prepares for the French Open. Nadal will take encouragement from the fact he pushed Alcaraz close in Madrid, even though he is working his way back from a rib injury and the quicker conditions do not suit his game as much as in Rome and Paris. Djokovic looks to be building momentum and produced his best performances of the season before going down to Alcaraz in three sets. Had he converted more than just one of six break-point chances against the 19-year-old then the final result might have been different.

Whether Alcaraz is the favourite for the French Open, his stunning rise represents a serious threat to Djokovic and Nadal as they try to sweep up more Grand Slam titles. Nadal said it’s “obvious” there is now a changing of the guard after losing to his fellow Spaniard, and Alcaraz might soon move above Daniil Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas as the biggest rival to Djokovic and Nadal at majors. It will be fascinating to see whether world No. 2 Medvedev, who is returning from injury next week in Geneva, Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 against Alcaraz, and Zverev, who not that long ago was being talked about as a member of the new ‘Big Three’, can counter.

All three have question marks ahead of the French Open, while Alcaraz is bursting with confidence.

“I think I’m ready to win a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz after winning Madrid. “I think I’m ready to go for it. It’s a goal for me this year, to try to get my first Grand Slam. I’m going to work for it, let’s see what’s going to happen at Roland-Garros.”

Last year Alcaraz became the youngest player since Djokovic in 2005 to win a match at the French Open, and the youngest player to reach the third round since 1992. If he wins in Paris this year he would be the first male teenager to lift a Grand Slam title since Nadal won the French Open in 2005.

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Best in the world, but is Alcaraz favourite for the French Open?

There was an amusing exchange after Carlos Alcaraz beat Novak Djokovic in a thrilling Madrid Open semi-final when the red-hot 19-year-old was asked who the best player in the world is.

“Well, Djokovic, because he’s No. 1,” was Alcaraz’s answer.

Pressed again on who is the best player in the world at this moment, Alcaraz said: “I’m not going to tell you that. The one that I know, I’m not going to tell you. I was able to beat No. 1, but still I’m ranked No. 9. I still have eight players in front of me to be No. 1.”

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Eight is now down to five after Alcaraz won his second Masters title in Madrid. And any debate over his current standing in the men’s game seems less challenging to answer.

“Right now you are the best player in the world,” said Zverev after getting outplayed by Alcaraz in the Madrid Open final.
Since losing his opener in Monte Carlo, Alcaraz, 19, has won 10 matches in a row to secure titles in Barcelona and Madrid. Even though he beat both Nadal and Djokovic in Madrid, his demolition of Zverev was arguably Alcaraz’s most impressive performance. Zverev, who blasted the ATP afterwards for “disgraceful” scheduling that left him short of sleep, has won Madrid twice, including last year, and had never lost on the main court. He was completely outplayed by Alcaraz in a one-sided 62-minute final.

The stats behind Alcaraz’s stunning season are incredible:

  • Youngest player to beat both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic
  • First player to beat Nadal and Djokovic in same clay event
  • Youngest top-10 player since Nadal in 2005
  • Youngest top-20 player since Andrei Medvedev in 1993
  • Second-youngest player to win two Masters titles (Nadal, 18, in 2005)
  • Youngest player to win five titles since Nadal in 2004-05
  • Youngest player since 1990 to beat three top-five players at same event
  • A 5-0 record in finals

Has Alcaraz elevated himself into favourite for the French Open?

There’s little to count against him, except he hasn’t yet done it at a Grand Slam. He’s won some long matches on the ATP Tour, including the two longest this year, but two-week majors with potential five-set battles against Nadal and Djokovic are another challenge. Alcaraz has only played in the main draw at five Grand Slams and has only made it past the third round once. Few players have won a major at the sixth attempt, although Nadal did so at the French Open in 2005.

What’s so impressive about Alcaraz is that his game already seems to have it all. When he started making waves last year his raw power and attacking approach stood out. Add to that arguably the best drop shot on tour, quick movement around the court, a strong net game, and a smart mind, and you have a seriously good player. The power is there still – against Nadal and Djokovic he hit a combined 88 winners compared to 34 from his opponents – but Alcaraz is also thinking more about how to win points. He caused Djokovic big problems with his kick serve and was hugely successful when serve and volleying in Madrid, winning 17 of 18 points. He also has the hunger to continue to get better.

Zverev takes aim at ATP scheduling following loss to Alcaraz in Madrid Open final

“I think that I have to improve everything still. I have always said that you can improve everything. You never reach a limit,” he said after winning in Madrid.

“Look at Rafa, Djokovic, [Roger] Federer, all of them improve and they have things to improve. That’s why they are so good, and that’s why they are so much [of the] time up there, because they don’t stop. They keep on working and improving.

“That’s what I want to do. I want to keep on progressing. I have really good shots. I don’t say that I don’t have them, but I know that I can improve them and they can be even better.”

Just as players have had to work out ways to try and beat Nadal and Djokovic in the past, now the two greats will have to study how they can conquer Alcaraz. Neither will be sitting still after Madrid.

Nadal and Djokovic are set to play this week in Rome, where either one or both of them have reached the final every year since 2005, while Alcaraz will be taking a week off as he prepares for the French Open. Nadal will take encouragement from the fact he pushed Alcaraz close in Madrid, even though he is working his way back from a rib injury and the quicker conditions do not suit his game as much as in Rome and Paris. Djokovic looks to be building momentum and produced his best performances of the season before going down to Alcaraz in three sets. Had he converted more than just one of six break-point chances against the 19-year-old then the final result might have been different.

Whether Alcaraz is the favourite for the French Open, his stunning rise represents a serious threat to Djokovic and Nadal as they try to sweep up more Grand Slam titles. Nadal said it’s “obvious” there is now a changing of the guard after losing to his fellow Spaniard, and Alcaraz might soon move above Daniil Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas as the biggest rival to Djokovic and Nadal at majors. It will be fascinating to see whether world No. 2 Medvedev, who is returning from injury next week in Geneva, Tsitsipas, who is 0-3 against Alcaraz, and Zverev, who not that long ago was being talked about as a member of the new ‘Big Three’, can counter.

All three have question marks ahead of the French Open, while Alcaraz is bursting with confidence.

“I think I’m ready to win a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz after winning Madrid. “I think I’m ready to go for it. It’s a goal for me this year, to try to get my first Grand Slam. I’m going to work for it, let’s see what’s going to happen at Roland-Garros.”

Last year Alcaraz became the youngest player since Djokovic in 2005 to win a match at the French Open, and the youngest player to reach the third round since 1992. If he wins in Paris this year he would be the first male teenager to lift a Grand Slam title since Nadal won the French Open in 2005.

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Rome Open draw: Djokovic and Nadal could meet in semis, Alcaraz may face Zverev

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal could meet in the semi-finals of the upcoming Rome Open as the world’s top players mount their final preparations for the next Grand Slam of the year at Roland-Garros.

The action at the Foro Italico – the last Masters 1000 clay-court event of the year – represents a chance to gain some precious momentum before heading to Paris, with the main draw on the French dirt starting on May 22.

In the men’s draw in Rome, top seed Djokovic and third seed Nadal – who met in the final last year with Nadal victorious in three sets – have been drawn in the same half, and could meet in the last four.

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However there are obstacles aplenty before then, with Nadal set to face the likes of Miami finalist Casper Ruud and Djokovic seeing Felix Auger-Aliassime, Stan Wawrinka and Diego Schwartzman blocking his path.

In the bottom half, all eyes will be on Spanish teen sensation Carlos Alcaraz, who – incredibly given all his success this term – has never even played at the Rome event before. He will be seeded seventh and in a repeat of the Madrid Open final, could meet second seed Alexander Zverev – but this time as early as the quarter-finals.

Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas has one of the toughest draws on paper, with Grigor Dimitrov in wait in the last-32, and the likes of Karen Khachanov, Andrey Rublev and home hope Jannik Sinner potentially beyond that.

Britons Cameron Norrie and Dan Evans feature in the draw, with the former set to begin his campaign against Italian wildcard Luca Nardi, and Evans facing up against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili.

The women’s event will feature 19 of the world’s top 20 by ranking and will be headed by world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Perhaps the most glamour match of the first round sees the clash of the former US Open champions, with Britain’s Emma Raducanu – who took the title so memorably at Flushing Meadows last year – and Bianca Andreescu – who did so in 2019 – set to meet for the first time.

The event’s second seed will be Paula Badosa, who could meet Leylah Fernandez and Jelena Ostapenko in her route through the draw.

– – –

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