Rafael Nadal Defeats Reilly Opelka to Reach Italian Open Men’s Final

Rafael Nadal is hoping to extend his record…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star, who has won the Italian Open a record nine times, will seek his tenth title on Sunday.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal ended the surprise clay-court run of big-serving American Reilly Opelka 6-4, 6-4 in their semifinal match on Saturday.

“I played the match that I had to play,” Nadal said. “I had two breaks [in] two sets. That’s a positive thing for me. [Being] in the final again here means a lot.”

A day earlier, Nadal snapped a three game losing streak against Alexander Zverev in straight sets.

“In terms of preparation for Roland Garros, I consider the job done,” Nadal said. “Tomorrow is not at all preparation. … [It’s] a final, an important one, and I want to be competitive.”

Nadal will play World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the men’s final. Nadal and the Serbian player have met an Open-era record 56 times, with Djokovic leading the series 29-27. Their previous meeting came in last year’s French Open final, where Nadal won in straight sets. It will be the sixth time they meet in the Rome final, with Nadal holding a 3-2 edge.

“Definitely my biggest rival of all time,” Djokovic said. “Even after all we have been through in our careers, there is still this excitement when we have to face each other. That’s going to be the case as long as we play each other on this level.”

Djokovic has five titles at the Foro Italico to Nadal’s nine.

Rafael Nadal Snaps Losing Streak Against Alexander Zverev to Advance to Italian Open Semifinals

Rafael Nadal’s skid is over…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win to reach the Italian Open semifinals on Friday.

Rafael Nadal

Zverev beat Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago and their latest meeting was also one-sided.

Nadal raced to 4-0 in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.

“I played more solid than Madrid. Conditions are different,” Nadal said, alluding to the fact that the high-altitude of the Spanish capital allowed Zverev to dominate more with his serve. “Here are little bit more normal conditions. I was able to control a little bit more.”

Nadal, aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, will next face big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semifinals by edging Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (2).

Rafael Nadal Outlasts Stefanos Tsitsipas to Win Record-Extending 12th Barcelona Open Title

Rafael Nadal has persevered to continue his winning ways on clay…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star saved one championship point on Sunday to defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5 and collect a record-extending 12th Barcelona Open trophy.

Rafael Nadal

The top seed was one point from defeat at 4-5, 30/40 in the decider and he carried the momentum from that moment to win three straight games and overcome the Monte-Carlo champion after three hours and 38 minutes.

The championship match was the longest best-of-three-set ATP Tour final since statistics started being tracked in 1991.

Rafael Nadal

This is the second tournament where Nadal has captured 12 or more titles. The 13-time Roland Garros (French Open) champion, who failed to convert two championship points at 5-4 in the second set, will return to No. 2 in the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday.

“I think I never played a final like this in this tournament, so it means a lot to me against a player like him, [after what] he achieved in Monte-Carlo and [that he reached] the final here without losing a set,” Nadal said. “It is an important victory for me. I think I have been increasing my level during the whole week and this victory confirms it. That’s important for today.

“To have the trophy with me here at home means a lot, but at the same time for the future.”

Carlos Alcaraz Among ESPN’s ’21 Under 21′ Tennis Players to Watch in 2021

Carlos Alcaraz is among the phenoms to watch this year…

ESPN has announced tennis’ 21 under 21 for 2021, with the 17-year-old Spanish tennis player among the sport’s rising stars making the grade.

Carlos Alcaraz

Despite the circumstances of the 2020 season, Alcaraz managed to move up 350 spots the rankings by year’s end, moving from No. 491 to No. 141, even reaching a career-high of No. 136 in October.

He started the year with back-to-back titles on the ITF Futures tour and was granted a wild card into the Rio Open in February. And the then-16-year-old made the most of his ATP Tour level debut, upsetting former World No. 17 Albert Ramos-Viñolas in 3 hours, 36 minutes in the opening round to become the first player born in 2003 to win a match and the youngest match winner since 2013. Alcaraz called the victory the high point of his season.

Following the restart of the season in August, Alcaraz went 20-4 in ATP Challenger events and won three titles at Trieste, Barcelona and Alicante, as well as playing in the final at Cordenons. He was named the ATP‘s Newcomer of the Year and is the youngest player in the top 600.

But Alcaraz, who idolizes fellow countryman Rafael Nadal, has even bigger goals for 2021. He hopes to make his first main draw appearance at a major in Australia in February and then play in all of the Grand Slams. As for his ranking? He’s hoping to make another big push in the new year.

“I want to finish the year in the top 50,” he said.

But Alcaraz isn’t the only Latinx tennis player to make the list…

Canada’s Leylah Fernandez completed her high school studies in the spring during the tour stoppage.

The 18-year-old half-Ecuadorian tennis player made her major main draw debut at the Australian Open in January — just a year removed from winning the junior title — but it was what she did in the weeks following the event that raised tennis fans’ eyebrows.

After losing in the first round in Melbourne, Fernandez scored her first win over a top-10 player (Belinda Bencic) while representing Canada in the Fed Cup (now known as the Billie Jean King Cup) in Switzerland. Later that month, she won six matches in seven days as a wild card qualifier in the Mexican Open, rolling into the final, where she ultimately lost to Heather Watson. The following week, she advanced to the quarterfinals at the Monterrey Open, defeating 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the second round.

Fernandez made a second-round appearance at the US Open and advanced to the third round of the French Open, where she took a 5-1 first-set lead over Petra Kvitova before the two-time major champion came back to win.

Fernandez thinks her 2021 will be even more successful. Her plan is to reach the top 10 by the end of the year.

Thiago Seyboth Wild wasn’t exactly the favorite entering the Chile Open last February after cracking the top 200 for the first time. But having notched one of the biggest wins of his career the week prior at the Rio Open in 3 hours, 49 minutes — the longest match ever in tournament history — over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, and taking World No. 32 Borna Ćorić to three sets the next round, the then-19-year old Brazilian tennis player was flying high entering the event.

What he did over the course of the week in Santiago was even more impressive.

Seyboth Wild knocked off three seeds en route to the title, becoming the first player born in the 2000s to win an ATP event and the youngest Brazilian champion in the Open era.

He found mixed results after the restart, losing in the first round of the US Open and not making it past qualifying at the French Open. But he made a finals appearance at a Challenger event in Aix-en-Provence, which lifted him to a career-high No. 106 in the rankings.

Seyboth Wild hopes to build off what he achieved in 2020 in the new year, although he says he focused more on some of the small things during the preseason.

Here’s the complete list in alphabetical order:

Carlos Alcaraz
Age: 17
Ranking: 141
Country: Spain
Career highlights: Winner of three ATP Challenger titles and three ITF Futures titles; Won his ATP main draw debut at the 2020 Rio Open

Bianca Andreescu
Age: 20
Ranking: 7
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Champion, 2019 US Open, 2019 Indian Wells and 2019 Canadian Open

Amanda Anisimova
Age: 19
Ranking: 30
Country: USA
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2019 French Open; Champion, 2019 Copa Colsanitas

Felix Auger-Aliassime
Age: 20
Ranking: 21 (77 in doubles)
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 US Open; Six-time ATP finalist; Doubles champion, 2020 Paris Masters 

Leylah Fernandez
Age: 18
Ranking: 88
Country: Canada
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 French Open; Finalist, 2020 Mexican Open

Hugo Gaston
Age: 20
Ranking: 162
Country: France
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open

Coco Gauff
Age: 16
Ranking: 48 (45 in doubles)
Country: USA
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon and 2020 Australian Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Champion, 2019 Linz Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open

Varvara Gracheva
Age: 20
Ranking: 94
Country: Russia
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Seven ITF titles 

Kaja Juvan
Age: 20
Ranking: 104
Country: Slovenia
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Wimbledon, 2020 US Open, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles 

Sebastian Korda
Age: 20
Ranking: 118
Country: USA
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2020 French Open; One title on ATP Challenger Tour 

Marta Kostyuk
Age: 18
Ranking: 99 (112 in doubles)
Country: Ukraine
Career highlights: Third round, 2018 Australian Open, 2020 US Open; Three ITF singles titles, two ITF doubles titles 

Ann Li
Age: 20
Ranking: 98
Country: USA
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Three ITF titles 

Caty McNally
Age: 19
Ranking: 121 (42 in doubles)
Country: USA
Career highlights: Third round, 2020 US Open; Doubles quarterfinals, 2020 Australian Open; Doubles champion, 2019 Washington Open and 2019 Luxembourg Open 

Lorenzo Musetti
Age: 18
Ranking: 128
Country: Italy
Career highlights: Semifinals, 2020 Sardinia; Third round, 2020 Italian Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles 

Brandon Nakashima
Age: 19
Ranking: 166
Country: USA
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 US Open; One ATP Challenger title and two ITF Futures titles 

Anastasia Potapova
Age: 19
Ranking: 101 (133 in doubles)
Country: Russia
Career highlights: Second round, 2019 Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon; Finalist, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2018 Tashkent Open; Doubles champion, 2018 Moscow River Cup, 2019 Lausanne

Thiago Seyboth Wild
Age: 20
Ranking: 116
Country: Brazil
Career highlights: First round, 2020 US Open; Champion, 2020 Chile Open

Jannik Sinner
Age: 19
Ranking: 37
Country: Italy
Career highlights: Quarterfinals, 2020 French Open; Champion, 2020 Sofia Open, 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals 

Iga Swiatek
Age: 19
Ranking: 17 (75 in doubles)
Country: Poland
Career highlights: Champion, 2020 French Open 

Clara Tauson
Age: 18
Ranking: 152
Country: Denmark
Career highlights: Second round, 2020 French Open; Seven ITF titles 

Dayana Yastremska
Age: 20
Ranking: 29 (90 in doubles)
Country: Ukraine
Career highlights: Fourth round, 2019 Wimbledon; Champion, 2018 Hong Kong, 2019 Hua Hin, 2019 Strasbourg

Joan Nadal Vives, Rafael Nadal’s Teen Cousin, Makes Professional Tennis Debut

There’s a new Nadal taking the court… And his name is Joan Nadal Vives.

The 16-year-old tennis player, the son of Toni and cousin of Rafael Nadal, has made his debut as a professional player.

Joan Nadal Vives

Joan, a left-handed player like his cousin Rafa, is one of Rafa’s uncle Toni’s two sons.

In his first professional tennis match, Joan lost 6-1, 6-3 to Turkey’s Kuzey Cekirge, who is ranked no. 1312, in the first round of a tournament ITF held in Manacor.

Joan’s registration into the Manacor event happened thanks to a wildcard. In his career as a junior, Joan had good results, but it must be remembered that Rafa, at 16, was very close to the top-200 in the ATP rankings, while 17-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, his countryman, is currently very close to entering the Top-100.

Joan has an older brother who is 17 years old, named Toni, like his father, who also plays tennis. Twenty years after his cousin Rafa did it in an F10 held in Madrid, Joan surely will never forget the day of his debut as a professional tennis player.

Curiously, Rafael Nadal started his professional career with a defeat against Spanish player Guillermo Platel in straight sets.

Rafael Nadal to Lead Spanish Team at Next Month’s ATP Cup

Rafael Nadal is headed back to the court next month…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star is set to return for the ATP Cup, the season-opening men’s team tennis event, starting February 1, but the United States will be missing because of a change in format that has halved the field.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal, last year’s runner-up, will be joined in the tournament by last year’s ATP Cup champion Novak Djokovic. His Spanish team includes Roberto Bautista Agut, Marcel Granollers and Pablo Carreno Busta.

Diego Schwartzman, Guido Pella, Horacio Zeballos and Maximo Gonzalez will represent Argentina in this year’s tournament, while Alex de Minaur will play for Australia and Steven Diez will represent Canada.

The inaugural event last year featured 24 teams and was played in three Australian cities, with Djokovic’s Serbia team beating Nadal and Spain in the final at Sydney’s Ken Rosewall Arena.

The February 1-5 second edition will involve 12 teams and be played entirely at Melbourne Park amid COVID-19 restrictions, along with WTA and ATP tournaments, in the week leading into the Australian Open.

The draw will be held on January 20, with teams divided into four groups. The winner of each round-robin group will advance to the semifinals.

Qualification for the ATP Cup was based on the ranking of each country’s top player, with Australia included on a wild-card entry. Other competing countries include Austria, Russia, Greece, Germany, Argentina, Italy, Japan, France and Canada.

All players arriving in Melbourne for the Australian Open will be required to quarantine for 14 days before the delayed start of the season’s first major. The Australian Open is usually staged in the last two weeks of January, but it has been pushed back to February 8-21 because of travel and other restrictions in place for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualifying for the men’s singles draw will take place in Doha, Qatar, and for the women’s in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, both running January 10-13.

As with other sports, the international tennis calendar was disrupted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, including the postponement of the French Open‘s start from May to September, and the cancellation of Wimbledon for the first time since World War II.

Rafael Nadal Claims ATP’s Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for Third Straight Year

Rafael Nadal is true sportsman…

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star has been named one of the winners of the ATP‘s top awards for 2020.

Rafael Nadal

Nadal received the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for the third year straight and fourth time overall after winning a 13th Roland Garros crown.

But he isn’t the only Latino to earn an award…

Bruno Soares and his partner Mate Pavic were named the No. 1 doubles team.

The 38-year-old Brazilian tennis player and Pavic were the champions at this year’s US Open.

Carlos Alcaraz was the Newcomer of the Year.

The 17-year-old Spanish tennis player won the award after claiming three Challengers titles.

Novak Djokovic was the year-end No. 1 for a record-equaling sixth time after winning four titles including a record eighth Australian Open.

Roger Federer, who played only six singles all year, was the singles fans’ favorite for a record-extending 18th straight year, and Andrey Rublev of Russia was the most improved in rising from No. 23 to a career-high 8 after winning five titles, more than anyone else on the tour.

Frances Tiafoe was given the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for his social activism. The American auctioned signed memorabilia to Athletes for COVID-19 Relief and posted a video that united the Black tennis community in the wake of George Floyd‘s killing.

Vasek Pospisil is the Comeback Player of the Year after undergoing back surgery in 2019. The Canadian reached two finals and rose to No. 61 after dropping to No. 150 in 2019.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Defending Champion Stefanos Tsitsipas to Advance to ATP Finals Semifinals

Rafael Nadal is still in the running… 

The 34-year-old Spanish tennis star has advanced to the semifinals at the ATP Finals for the first time in five years after knocking out the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 Thursday at the O2 Arena.

Rafael Nadal

It is the sixth time in 10 appearances that Nadal has reached the semifinals of the season-ending tournament, which is the biggest title he has yet to win in his illustrious career.

Tsitsipas won it on his first try last year, but exited after a second loss of the group stage, done in by a shaky serve in the third set, during which he was broken three times.

Nadal never looked threatened on his serve against Tsitsipas until the final game of the second set, when he double-faulted to hand the Greek player a way back into the match.

“I think I was winning my serves quite comfortably until that moment,” Nadal said. “After that, everything changed.”

Suddenly, neither player could hold serve as the third set started with three straight breaks, with Nadal taking a 2-1 lead. The Spaniard finally held and broke again for a 5-2 lead before clinching the win on his second match point.

Nadal, who improved to 6-1 against Tsitsipas, will play Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals on Saturday.

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.