Rafael Nadal Outlasts Alexander Zverev for His Record-Extending Eighth Italian Open Title

Rafael Nadal is still the King of Clay

The 31-year-old Spanish tennis star profited from a timely rain delay at a break when he was down in the final set to hold off defending champion and No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 at the Italian Open in Rome.

Rafael Nadal

It was a record-extending eighth Italian Open title for Nadal, who’ll head to Roland Garros as the new world No. 1.

Nadal surrendered top spot in the ATP world rankings to Roger Federer last week after Nadal’s Madrid Open quarterfinal defeat to Dominic Thiem — the only blight on an otherwise impeccable clay-court season this year.

However, Nadal will return to the summit when the latest ATP rankings are published on Monday after he overcame world No. 3 Zverev in a thrilling finale on the Foro Italico’s Campo Centrale.

Billed as a clash between the two current top-form players on clay, Sunday’s final did not disappoint. After two hotly-contested semifinals on Saturday — Nadal saw off long-time rival Novak Djokovic while Zverev smashed a racket in anger during his victory over Marin Cilic — the championship match ebbed and flowed throughout.

Despite dropping serve in the opening game, victory looked like a foregone conclusion for 10-time French Open champion Nadal as he blistered through the first set in 33 minutes to put his young opponent on the back foot.

However, Zverev produced a phenomenal set of tennis to force the decider. The German changed tactics in the second set, becoming much more aggressive on the front foot and overwhelming Nadal with an array of powerful strokes.

The 21-year-old secured a double-break to move 5-0 ahead. After Nadal prevented the bagel, he leveled the match in style with a ferocious backhand winner down the line.

Rising star Zverev’s confidence grew further as he immediately broke Nadal at the start of the third, before the match’s turning point came in agonizing fashion.

With Zverev leading 3-1 in the final set, rain intervened and caused an hour’s delay in play. It proved pivotal, allowing Nadal precious time to regain his composure and hit back immediately after the restart.

Nadal rattled off four consecutive games — including two successive breaks of serve — to move 5-3 ahead before serving out a fifth to secure his eighth Italian crown and send out a warning to his rivals ahead of the year’s second grand slam.

Rafael Nadal Returns to No. 1 in the ATP World Rankings

Rafael Nadal is back on top…

Almost nine years to the day since he first became No. 1, the 31-year-old Spanish tennis star has returned to the top of the ATP rankings for his fourth stint at the pinnacle.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal, who had previously spent 141 total weeks at No. 1, replaces Andy Murray, who had held the top spot for 41 weeks since November 7, 2016.

Nadal, who first ascended to No. 1 on August 18, 2008 at the age of 22, last held top spot three years and 45 days ago on July 6, 2014.

Nadal will now look to stay ahead of rival Roger Federer and finish atop the year-end ATP rankings for the first time since 2013 and for the fourth time in his career (2008, 2010, 2013).

“Being No. 1 after all the things that I have been going through the last couple of years is something unbelievable, so [it] is, for me, an amazing achievement to be back to that position after [a] few years, three years,” said Nadal.

Nadal has spent three previous stints at No. 1 – 46 weeks between August 18, 2008 and July 5, 2009, 56 weeks from June 7, 2010 to July 3, 2011 and 39 weeks between October 7, 2013 and July 6, 2014.

He holds the record for the longest gap – nine years and three days – between his debut at No. 1 and his return today, which betters the previous mark of Jimmy Connors, who was first No. 1 on July 29, 1974 and last at No. 1 on July 3, 1983 – a gap of eight years and 339 days.

Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman and President, said, “To regain the No. 1 ranking nine years after having first reached it is unprecedented. Rafa has been setting records throughout his remarkable career and this one is as impressive as any. It shows incredible dedication and longevity, and we congratulate him on this amazing achievement.”

Nadal, who ended the 2016 season early due to a wrist injury, has returned in 2017 playing some of the best tennis of his career. In compiling an ATP World Tour-best 49-9 match record, Nadal has captured four trophies this season, including historic 10th titles at Roland Garros (d. Wawrinka), the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Ramos-Vinolas) and the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Thiem), in addition to a fifth crown at the Mutua Madrid Open (d. Thiem).

He has also reached three other finals – the Australian Open (l. to Federer), Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco (l. to Querrey) and the Miami Open presented by Itau (l. to Federer).

On 12 June, Nadal became the first player to qualify for the 2017 season-ending ATP Finals, to be held at The O2 in London from 12-19 November. It is the 13th straight year that he has qualified for the elite eight-player tournament.

Garcia Reaches Women’s Doubles Final at the French Open

Caroline Garcia has reached her first Grand Slam women’s doubles final…

The 22-year-old part-Spanish tennis player and her partner Kristina Mladenovic beat Margarita Gasparyan and Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in Friday’s semifinal at the French Open.

Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic

The all-French team, the obvious local favorites at Roland Garros, will face off against Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia in the final.

Last year, Garcia reached the third round at the French Open with then partner Katarina Srebotnik.

But this year, Garcia and Mladenovic won the women’s doubles title at the Mutua Madrid Open, defeating the No. 1 seeded team of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza in the final, 6–4, 6–4.

Garcia Upsets Agnieszka Radwanska at China’s Wuhan Open

Caroline Garcia has upset on the brain…

Following her first-round win over Venus Williams, the 20-year-old half-Spanish tennis player pulled off another big upset win, defeating fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska on Monday at the inaugural Wuhan Open in China.

Caroline Garcia

Garcia went for broke, continuing to hit big ground strokes despite piling up unforced errors as she tried to keep Radwanska on the back foot.

“It’s pretty different game between Venus and Radwanska, but I did the same game for myself,” Garcia said. “Against these kind of girls like Radwanska you have to do (this kind) of game … sometime you can miss, but I knew it was the only way I can win this today.”

Garcia, currently ranked No. 41 in the world, avenged a loss to Radwańska at the Mutua Madrid Open in May, where she’d reached the quarterfinals of a Premier WTA event for the first time. She’d defeated Angelique Kerber in the first round after the German retired with a lower back injury, receiving a walkover from Maria Kirilenko after the Russian withdrew with a wrist injury, and then defeating tenth seed Sara Errani in three sets in the third round. She eventually lost to third seed Radwańska in the final eight stage, in three sets.

Muguruza & Carla Suarez Navarro Advance to the French Open Women’s Doubles Semifinals

Garbiñe Muguruza’s sensational run in the women’s singles draw at the French Open may have come to an end in the quarterfinals… But she’s still in the title hunt at Roland Garros.

The 20-year-old half-Spanish-half-Venezuelan tennis player, considered one of the WTA’s rising stars, and her women’s doubles partner Carla Suarez Navarro beat Kveta Peschke and Katarina Srebotnik, the tournament’s No. 4 seeds, 6-4 6-4, in the quarterfinals to advance to the next round.

Garbine Muguruza & Carla Suarez Navarro

Peschke and Srebotnik, 2010 French Open finalists and 2011 Wimbledon champions, were the heavy favorites going into the match.

It’s only the third Grand Slam doubles appearance of her young career. Muguruza’s previous best showing in women’s doubles at a Grand Slam was a second round appearance at this year’s Australian Open.

Muguruza and Suarez Navarro will have a tough challenge in Friday’s semifinals. They’ll be facing off against this year’s No. 1 seeds, Taiwan’s Hsieh Suwei and China’s Peng Shuai.

In the last two years, she’s taken home doubles titles at the Hobart International in 2013 and this year’s Marrakech Grand Prix. She and current partner Suarez Navarro were the runners-up at last month’s Madrid Open.

Muguruza’s Cinderella Run Comes to a Halt at the French Open

The clock has struck midnight for Garbiñe Muguruza, but not before making a massive impression at Roland Garros.

The 20-year-old half-Spanish-half-Venezuelan tennis player’s Cinderella run at the French Open came toan end at the hands of No. 7 seed Maria Sharapova.

Garbiñe Muguruza

Sharapova rallied to beat Muguruza, who was competing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Sharapova, the 2012 winner, overcame a sluggish start for the second match in a row, having defeated No. 19 Sam Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the fourth round. She improved to 18-3 in major quarterfinals and won her 48th match at Roland Garros (against 10 losses), breaking a tie with Serena Williams for the most among active players.

Williams, the world No. 1, barely added to her total at this year’s tournament because she proved no match in the second round for Muguruza, currently ranked No. 35 in the world.

Muguruza, a player to watch for a while, entered the French Open 0-5 against top-five players and 3-8 against the top 10. In her two most recent tournaments, she’d lost to Stosur in the second round of the Madrid Open and to No. 61 Francesca Schiavone in the second round of the Italian Open.

But the French Open was a different story as she crushed Williams 6-2, 6-2, followed that upset with two more routine victories and rolled to an early lead against Sharapova.

Muguruza dominated the first set on by breaking her opponent three times in five chances and hitting only seven unforced errors compared to 13 for Sharapova, who served at only 55 percent and won 2-of-9 second-serve points.

Sharapova, however, showed some of her trademark fight in the second set. After giving away a break lead with back-to-back double faults, the 27-year-old Russian had to hold at 4-5 to stay in the match. Muguruza then played a poor service game to get broken, and Sharapova served out the set.

“A lot of the games in the first set she was always up 30‑Love, 40‑Love, and then I’d win a point or two,” Sharapova said. “Then she’s the one with the confidence. You never are giving her a chance to think. In the second set, when you’re making her hit a second ball after her serve or when you’re being a bit more aggressive on the second serves, taking a bit more chances, all of a sudden she’s not hitting so freely.”

The key point of the third set came when Sharapova saved five break points while serving at 2-1. Both women struggled to string together two good points in the 10-minute game, with Muguruza taking the more offensive stance and forcing Sharapova to defend.

Sharapova struggled all day with the depth on her shots and couldn’t open up the court consistently enough to hit through her young opponent. But the Muguruza forehand broke down under pressure and began to leak errors. Sharapova finally earned the hold, won the next game for a double-break lead, at 4-1, and coasted from there.

“I knew that the match wasn’t over,” Sharapova said, when asked about the quick first set. “I still had a fair bit of time to change things around. Little by little I started playing a bit better, started getting in the court a little bit more, playing a little bit more aggressive, serving better than I did in the first set, returning as well, giving myself more looks at break points.”

“It’s tough now because I had the opportunity to win the match,” said Muguruza. “But I need more experience in these kind of matches. I think I played very good in three sets, but in the important moments I need to improve my mentality.”

Nadal Wins His Fourth Title at the Madrid Open

Rafael Nadal is back in title-winning form…

The 27-year-old Spanish tennis star, currently ranked No. 1 in the world, won his fourth Madrid Open title on Sunday after Japan’s Kei Nishikori was forced to retire their match with an injury when trailing 2-6, 6-4, 3-0 in the men’s final.

Rafael Nadal

Nishikori’s powerful groundstrokes helped him win the first set against the Nadal, who couldn’t find a way to counter his opponent.

Nadal slowly worked his way back into the match and broke Nishikori twice in the second set to even the match.

But Nishikori was in obvious discomfort in the third, even receiving treatment on his lower back during a medical timeout, before calling it quits.

Nadal recovered from two recent quarterfinal round losses on clay to win his second title on the surface this year. He began his clay court season with a quarterfinal loss to David Ferrer in the Monte Carlo Masters. He was also stunned by Nicolas Almagro in the quarterfinals of the Barcelona Open.

Nadal Reaches Madrid Open Men’s Final

Rafael Nadal’s clay court season is on an upswing…

The 27-year-old Spanish tennis star, the world’s top-ranked player, defeated fellow countryman Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4 on Saturday to reach the finals at the Madrid Open.

Rafael Nadal

With the win, Nadal, the defending champion, reached his first clay final since winning in Rio de Janeiro in February.

Bautista Agut, playing in his first career Masters series semifinal, couldn’t match the experience of Nadal, who continues to improve after coming to the Magic Box center having lost at consecutive clay tournaments for the first time in a decade.

Nadal took advantage of Bautista Agut’s timid start to break right away for a lead he would never surrender.

Nadal’s concentration dipped temporarily in the second set as Bautista Agut clawed to within 4-3 before Nadal overcame his 21 errors by pulling away to reach his 90th career final.

“Psychologically speaking about Monte Carlo and Barcelona, whenever I had nerves, I was not ready and I was a little bit down,” said Nadal, bidding to be the first repeat winner from his sixth final appearance.

“I am mentally more stable and more confident things will go well. This is great news going into tomorrow’s match and for the future.”

Giraldo Overwhelms Andy Murray to Reach the Madrid Open Quarterfinals

It took a few attempts, but Santiago Giraldo has finally beaten a top-10 player… And, he’s registered back-to-back wins against two big name players in tennis in the process.

Following his second-round upset win over World No. 13 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the second round, the 26-year-old Colombian tenista slaughtered Andy Murray on Thursday in the third round at the ATP Mutua Madrid Open.

Santiago Giraldo

The Wimbledon champion was simply overwhelmed by Giraldo, who is currently ranked No. 46 in the world.

Giraldo beat Murray 6-3, 6-2 in a mere 70 minutes.

Murray’s play was erratic throughout the match against the Colombian qualifier, who earned his first career victory against a top-10 player in 20 attempts.

“He played very well from start to finish,” Murray said. “Towards the end I didn’t put enough pressure on him to force him to make errors. He dictated most of the points and deserved to win. I didn’t envisage the match finishing like that.”

Giraldo will next face Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals.

Nadal Cruises to Madrid Open Title

Rafael Nadal is on a roll as we head towards this year’s French Open

The 26-year-old Spanish tennis star won his fifth title since returning from his knee injury by defeating Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-4 on Sunday to claim the Madrid Open championship.

Rafael Nadal

Cheered on by the home crowd at the Caja Magica, the fifth-ranked Nadal eased his way to the 55th title of his career and extended his head-to-head record with Wawrinka to 9-0.

Nadal took the first set in just over half an hour and closed out the second after Wawrinka put up a little more of a fight.

It was Nadal’s seventh straight final since recovering from a nagging case of tendinitis in his left knee that sidelined him for seven months.

Nadal flopped on his back and screamed in joy when his Wawrinka’s final volley fell long to end the match in 1 hour, 12 minutes.

“I’m very happy, and maybe this victory is even more special considering how complicated this year has been,” said Nadal. “This tournament couldn’t have gone better for me.

“I think this was my best match of the tournament. This was perhaps the match where I was the most aggressive.”

The local favorite set the tone in the first game by breaking Wawrinka with a vicious flick to land the ball on the sideline.

Nadal, who had won here in 2005 and 2010, roared out to a 4-0 lead in 20 minutes.

The 15th-ranked Wawrinka recovered in the second set and managed to get Nadal’s service game to deuce. But Nadal returned two line-drive shots by Wawrinka at the net before he fired the third try long. Nadal then drove in an ace to end Wawrinka’s challenge.

“Nadal showed again that he is the best on clay,” said Wawrinka, who also congratulated Nadal’s coaching staff for helping him back from his layoff.

“Since he has come back he has shown that it is really tough to beat him.”