Rafael Nadal Wins Opening Group Match at ATP Finals

Rafael Nadal has started his ATP Finals experience on a winning note…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star made easy work of Andrey Rublev in Sunday’s late match, beating the Russian 6-3, 6-4 in just 1 hour, 17 minutes inside a largely empty O2 Arena.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal is hoping to cap off a season in which he earned his record-equaling 20th Grand Slam title and 1,000th match win on tour by capturing his first-ever trophy at the ATP Finals. He has qualified for the season-ending event for a record 16 straight years, but has lost in the final twice and missed six editions because of injuries.

Nadal steered the evening match in his direction from the start, losing just five points on his serve in the first set. He broke for a 4-2 lead when Rublev sent a shot long, and the Russian then slammed his racket into the ground in frustration.

Rublev entered the tournament as one of the hottest players on tour, having won five titles this season, but looked unsettled against Nadal and continuously gesticulated and shouted to himself between points.

Nadal broke in the opening game of the second set as well and never faced a break point of his own. He served out the win on his second match point when Rublev’s return sailed long.

This is the 12th and last year that the ATP Finals is played at the 02 Arena before moving to Turin, Italy, next year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic there are no fans inside the 20,000-capacity venue this time — meaning the normally raucous atmosphere has been replaced by an eerie silence interrupted only by muted applause from the players’ boxes between points.

There are also no line judges, as the tournament is using electronic line calling for the first time. The system means players can no longer challenge whether a ball was in or out as those calls get made automatically. However, they can request a video review for other disputed situations, such as double bounces.

Diego Schwartzman to Face Novak Djokovic in First Group Stage Match at Maiden ATP Finals

Diego Schwartzman is preparing for the big dance…

The 28-year-old Argentine professional tennis player, who clinched the final spot at the prestigious season-ending ATP Finals, will play ATP Tour World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in his first group stage match.

Diego Schwartzman

Schwartzman, competing in his first-ever ATP Finals, will be the first Argentine player to compete at the tournament since Juan Martin del Potro in 2013.

Schwartzman is the eighth singles player from Argentina to feature in the 50-year history of the tournament, following in the footsteps of 1974 titlist Guillermo Vilas (1974-77, ’79-82), Jose-Luis Clerc (1980-83), Guillermo Coria (2003-05), 2005 champion David Nalbandian (2003, ’05-06), Gaston Gaudio (2004-05), Mariano Puerta (2005) and 2009 runner-up del Potro (2008-09, ’12-13).

Schwartzman joins fellow debutant Andrey Rublev of Russia, alongside former qualifiers  Djokovic of Serbia, Spain’s Rafael NadalDominic Thiem of Austria, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and Germany’s Alexander Zverev in the 2020 singles field.

There will be four players aged 24 and under at the ATP Finals for the second straight year. The last time this happened in back-to-back years was in 2008-09.

Schwartzman broke into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings for the first time at No. 8 on 12 October after a run to his first Grand Slam championship semi-final at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal). A few weeks earlier, the Buenos Aires resident beat  Nadal en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 final at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome (l. to Djokovic).

As the first Argentine in the Top 10 since del Potro in May 2019, Schwartzman also finished runner-up at two ATP 250 events in a reduced 2020 season — at the Cordoba Open (l. to Garin) in February and at the bett1HULKS Championship runner-up in Cologne (l. to Zverev) in October.

At 5’7”, Schwartzman is the shortest player in the Top 10 since 5’6″ Harold Solomon, whose last week in the Top 10 began on 27 July 1981.

Rafael Nadal to Face Pablo Carreno Busta in His Return to ATP Tour at the Italian Open

Rafael Nadal is heading back to competitive tennis play…

The 34-year-old tennis star will make his return to the ATP Tour against US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta at the Italian Open in Rome.

Rafael Nadal

In his first appearance since the ATP Tour suspension in March, the nine-time titlist will need to be at the top of his game when he meets his countryman for the sixth time in their head-to-head series (Nadal leads 5-0).

Carreno Busta has made a strong return to the ATP Tour, reaching his second US Open semi-final earlier this week. The Spaniard also lifted his maiden doubles trophy at the Western & Southern Open last month.

Nadal and Carreno Busta most recently met in the third round of this year’s Australian Open, with Nadal winning in straight sets. If he gets past Carreno Busta, he could meet Western & Southern Open finalist Milos Raonic in the third round. Nadal shares the bottom quarter of the draw with eighth seed Diego Schwartzman and US Open quarterfinalist Andrey Rublev.

The five-time year-end World No. 1 enters Rome with a 13-3 record this year. At his most recent event in February, Nadal did not drop a set en route to his 85th tour-level trophy at the Acapulco Open in Mexico.

Chasing his 10th title at the Foro Italico, the Spaniard will look to add to his 61-6 record at the ATP Masters 1000 event. Nadal is currently on a 10-match winning streak in Rome, having won the past two editions of the tournament. The 35-time ATP Masters 1000 winner won three-set battles against Alexander Zverev in the 2018 championship match and Novak Djokovic in last year’s final.

If Nadal triumphs for the third straight year in Rome, he will capture a 10th trophy at a single event for the fourth time in his career. He owns 12 French Open trophies and has won 11 crowns at both the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona OpenRoger Federer is the only other player to have reached double digits at a single ATP Tour event in the Open Era. He owns 10 trophies at the Noventi Open in Halle and the Swiss Indoors Basel.

Bruno Soares Wins Men’s Doubles Title at US Open with New Partner Mate Pavic

Bruno Soares is back in the winner’s circle at Flushing Meadows.

The 38-year-old Brazilian tennis player and Mate Pavic won their first Grand Slam championship as a team on Thursday, beating Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic 7-5, 6-3 to take home the US Open trophy.

Bruno Soares & Mate Pavic

“It means a lot. That’s what we practice for. That’s what we were trying to do in these five months off, working for this moment,” Soares said on court after the match. “Extremely happy. Tough year for everyone. Really glad the work that everyone put into this event to give us the opportunity to get back on the court. To start with a Grand Slam title, I think it’s a very positive way to come back for us.”

Pavic and Soares lost in the first round of the Western & Southern Open, the first tournament since the ATP Tour resumed. But they battled past four former US Open champions en route to earning the title at the same venue, the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Both men had previously captured Grand Slam glory, with Soares winning the 2016 Australian Open and US Open with Jamie Murray, while Pavic triumphed at the 2018 Australian Open with Oliver Marach.

This is their second tour-level victory together after winning last year’s Shanghai Masters.

Pavic and Soares were both the more dynamic and solid team inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Pavic wreaked havoc with his big serve and flashy shotmaking, while Soares made few mistakes and forced their opponents to hit difficult shots.

Alex de Minaur & Pablo Carreno Busta Claim Western & Southern Open Men’s Doubles Title in Team Debut

It’s a debut to remember for Alex de Minaur and Pablo Carreno Busta

The 21-year-old Uruguayan/Spanish-Australian tennis player and his 29-year-old Spanish doubles partner completed their team debut week by lifting the Western & Southern Open title on Saturday.

Alex de Minaur & Pablo Carreno Busta

After breaking serve at 5-5 in the second set, rain forced the unseeded duo to wait until the conclusion of the singles final to complete a 6-2, 7-5 victory over Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

De Minaur and Carreno Busta, who trailed 0-4 in the second set, held their nerves to hold serve on the deciding point and claim their maiden ATP Tour doubles trophies after 83 minutes.

Carreno Busta was competing in his fourth tour-level doubles final, while de Minaur was making his debut in an ATP Tour doubles championship match.

Alex de Minaur & Pablo Carreno Busta

“It was a good week for us,” said Carreno Busta. “We lost in the singles and we just tried to continue to play matches. It is important for us to get rhythm, to get confidence and I think the doubles, on this occasion, was good for this.

“We didn’t expect to arrive to a final and win the tournament, but we played the last matches better than the first ones.”

de Minaur and Carreno Busta have impressed from their first match at the ATP Masters 1000 event. The team upset defending champions Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek in the first round and also beat eighth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic en route to the championship match.

“It is a great feeling [to be back on the ATP Tour]. I am very happy to be back on court and hopefully this week in doubles can give me some confidence and momentum going into next week,” said de Minaur.

Murray and Skupski were also attempting to capture their first ATP Tour doubles trophy as a team. The Brits began their partnership by winning the Arizona Tennis Classic — an ATP Challenger Tour event — in March 2019.

After four service holds to open the final, de Minaur and Carreno Busta played the better tennis in crucial moments to earn four consecutive games and the first set. Carreno Busta flicked a pinpoint lob over Skupski’s head to reach deciding point at 2-2 and the Brit volleyed beyond the baseline to concede the break. de Minaur and Carreno Busta capitalized on Skupski double faults to gain a second break, before clinching the set after 30 minutes with a de Minaur service hold.

Murray and Skupski responded quickly in the second set, extracting multiple errors from Carreno Busta’s backhand and showcasing quick reactions at the net to earn a 4-0 lead. But Carreno Busta and de Minaur charged back and earned their third break of the set at 5-5 when Skupski fired long with a backhand approach shot. After an extended rain delay and a court switch to Louis Armstrong Stadium, the debut team captured the trophy on deciding point when Carreno Busta landed a forehand volley winner.

Carreno Busta and de Minaur earn 1000 FedEx ATP Doubles Ranking points and share $80,000 in prize money. Murray and Skupski earn 600 points and split $68,000.

Roberto Bautista Agut Outlasts Defending Champion Daniil Medvedev to reach Semifinals at the Western & Southern Open

Roberto Bautista Agut has pulled off a big upset…

The 32-year-old Spanish professional tennis player knocked out defending champion Daniil Medvedev on Wednesday in the quarterfinals of the Western & Southern Open.

Roberto Bautista Agut

Medvedev failed to close it out in the second set, and Bautista Agut rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory that eliminated yet another top player from the tuneup tournament for the US Open. Djokovic is the only player left in the tournament with an ATP Masters 1000 title to his credit.

Medvedev led 4-3 in the second before letting it slip away. He converted only five of 20 break points in the match and swatted his racket against the court in frustration at the end.

“Even in the third set I had my chances and didn’t take them,” Medvedev said.

Bautista Agut reached his third ATP Masters semifinal and his first since 2016. He needed a set to adjust to the breezy, cooler conditions on court.

“It’s never easy to come back and play good at first,” he said. “I have to be patient, to try to enjoy every single match I play here after six months without competing. Just pleased and happy to be in the semifinals.”

Medvedev hoisted the champion’s Rookwood Pottery cup last year in Mason, Ohio, where the tournament is held annually. This year’s event was moved to the US Open site in Flushing Meadows because of coronavirus pandemic precautions, creating a two-tournament event without spectators.

He’ll next face World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.

Rafael Nadal Slated to Compete at the Western & Southern Open

It looks like Rafael Nadal is returning to the court…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star and defending US Open champion appears on the acceptance list for the Western & Southern Open, which was released Wednesday, alongside world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

Rafael Nadal

While Nadal and Djokovic’s appearance on the list doesn’t guarantee that they’ll end up competing in the top-tier Masters 1000 event starting August 20, the list does suggest that 16 of the ATP‘s top 20 players are prepared to participate in the reboot of the tour.

The Western & Southern, moved from its longtime home in Cincinnati, and the US Open comprise a two-tournament event that the USTA is planning to stage in a “safety bubble” being created around the National Tennis Center.

Players who choose not to play after they’ve appeared on the acceptance list are subject to the penalty of having a “zero-pointer” added to their rankings record, meaning that they are treated as if they had taken a first-round loss. The sting of that punitive measure has been greatly decreased by the ATP’s pandemic-driven move to a ranking based on a 22-month cycle rather than 12 months.

The rankings, frozen since the tour was suspended in mid-March, will resume with the Western & Southern. Since two editions of the event will be played during the new rankings cycle, only a player’s best result will count toward his ranking. A player who pulls out of Cincinnati can wipe out the zero-pointer at the 2021 tournament. The same goes for the US Open.

Djokovic, who tested positive for the coronavirus following the collapse of his own Adria Tour exhibition series in June, raised a number of objections when the USTA announced plans to forge ahead with a US Open played under the strict health protocols demanded by the COVID-19 outbreak. His stance has softened considerably since, and he has been observed practicing on hard courts for more than a week now.

“We are very glad that [the US Open] is happening,” Djokovic recently told Eurosport‘s Tennis Legends podcast. “It is very important that we provide opportunities, we provide jobs, for players to compete.”

Nadal is a greater question mark. He has said he is “not OK” with the USTA’s insistence that the American Grand Slam take place without fans in attendance. 

The 12-time French Open champion has been practicing, but only on red clay. This year’s French Open will limit attendance when it starts Sept. 27.

Roberto Bautista Agut to Headline the Three-Event Series ‘UTR Pro Series-Spain’

Roberto Bautista Agut is heading back to the court…

The 32-year-old Spanish professional tennis player will headline the UTR Pro Series-Spain, a three-event series that’ll be played on successive weekends beginning July 10 in Barcelona.

Roberto Bautista Agut

Conspicuous in his absence: ATP No. 2 ranked Rafael Nadal, who hasn’t taken part in any of the growing number of “re-opening” events tennis entrepreneurs and officials have staged during the suspension of ATP and WTA tennis due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Spanish events will feature Bautista Agut, ranked No. 12 in the world, No. 25 Pablo Carreno Busta, and Albert Ramos-Viñolas, who is No. 41. Two of the other committed players are well-known veterans Fernando Verdasco and Feliciano Lopez, both of whom are still ranked in the Top 100.

The UTR Pro Series tournament format is modeled on the wildly popular exhibition event created by Roger Federer, the Laver Cup (this year’s event, scheduled for Boston in late September, has been canceled due to a conflict with the postponed French Open). 

The eight participants in the UTR showdown will be divided into two teams. The matches will be best-three sets, but with a match tiebreaker in lieu of a third set.

UTR, or Universal Tennis Rating, is an organization built on the foundation of a rating system that differs substantially from the formal ATP ranking system. It rates all players, including top pros, solely on the basis of their results against each other in recent matches recognized by UTR. It’s already widely used in junior play and by college recruiters, and has sponsored a number of exhibitions in recent months.

Federer is out of action for the rest of the year due to an aggravated knee injury. Novak Djokovic made his first appearance as a player during the coronavirus pandemic in late June, but the four-tournament Adria Tour he conceived turned into a debacle due to an outbreak of coronavirus. Djokovic was among those who tested positive for Covid-19.

Nadal has kept his distance from the exhibition circuit, and has also expressed disappointment at the prospect of playing without fans in attendance at the upcoming US Open. He hasn’t yet decided if he’ll defend his title in New York.

Cristian Garin Defeats Diego Schwartzman to Win Cordoba Open

Cristian Garinis celebrating his first title of the year…

The 23-year-old Chilean tennis player won the third ATP Tour title of his career on Sunday, coming back from a set down for the third consecutive match to beat top seed Diego Schwartzman 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 in central Argentina’s Cordoba Open.

Cristian Garin

After a slow start, Garin overpowered the home favorite, stepping into the court to put the Argentine on the defense and leave him gasping for air.

The home crowd tried to will their man to his first title on home soil, but Garin played fearlessly in the second and third sets, hitting lines and never backing down against the 27-year-old Buenos Aires native.

“Argentina is like my second home… I did not expect to win and I am very happy of course,” said Garin. “I’ve won three tournaments in 11 months, its quite a cool thing.”

Garin improved to 3-1 in ATP Tour finals, all of which have come in the past 12 months. The Chilean was off to a dismal start in 2020 before Cordoba, going 0-3 at the ATP Cupand falling in the second round of the Australian Open(l. to Raonic).

But Garin ended 2019 as one of the premier clay-court players on the ATP Tour and has started 2020 the exact same way.

“I always thought I could turn the match and win,” said Garin. “That’s how it has been all week for me and it’s what I value most. I think I’m having my best moment but I have a lot to improve.”

He will receive 250 ATP Rankings points and $91,625 in prize money. Schwartzman, who fell to 3-5 in ATP Tour finals, will take home $50,710 in prize money and 150 ATP Rankings points.

Rafael Nadal’s ATP Cup Mural Unveiled in Perth

Rafael Nadal’s face has found a special home Down Under

The 33-year-old Spanish tennis star, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, is one of the players being honored with a special mural in Perth, Australia.

Rafael Nadal Mural

The inaugural ATP Cupis set to take place between January 3-12 in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, bringing together some of the world’s leading players in both singles and doubles from 24 countries. 

Weeks before the start of the action, Nodal got his mural in Perth together with Kei Nishikori and other stars, with the organizers welcoming the 19-time Grand Slam champion.

Nadal is among those who’ll fight for the crown together with his teammates, fresh after conquering the first edition of the Davis Cup Finalsin Madrid.

Spain is the favorite to reach the quarters from Group B, battling against Japan, Uruguay and Georgia at RAC Arena in Perth and hoping to continue the competition in Sydney where eight strongest teams continue the quest for the title in the second stage of the event.

Backed by Roberto Bautista AugtPablo Carreno BustaAlbert Ramos-Vinolas and Feliciano Lopez, Nadal is eager to lead Spain towards another team competition crown, shining in front of the home fans in Madrid with eight victories from as many rubbers and delivering the sixth Davis Cup title for Spain.

In what was a wild race towards the finish line, Nadal and Djokovic fought for the year-end no. 1 spot for almost the entire season, with the Spaniard making the deciding move in Montreal and the US Open and keeping the lead in the ATP Raceuntil the ATP Finalswhere they both lost in the round-robin stage.

Rafa and Novak will continue their rivalry at the ATP Cup, joined by Gael MonfilsKei NishikoriDavid GoffinAndy Murray, Grigor DimitrovAlexander ZverevDenis ShapovalovFelix Auger-AliassimeNick KyrgiosAlex de MinaurDaniil MedvedevKaren KhachanovJohn IsnerMatteo BerrettiniFabio FogniniDominic Thiem, Diego Schwartzmanand others.