Following the success of the two Night Singles competitions played in 2017 (June/July &...
Following the success of the night-time Singles Fixtures introduced in mid 2017, the UQ Tennis Club...

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Updated: 19 min 7 sec ago

Filip's Great Escape: Krajinovic Claims Heilbronn Crown

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 11:53pm

In just 48 hours, Filip Krajinovic experienced a full spectrum of emotions at the NECKARCUP in Heilbronn.

In Saturday's semi-finals, the top-seeded Serbian trailed 1-6, 1-4 against Stefano Travaglia. Down a set and a double break, it was all but done and dusted. His Italian opponent was dialed in and he was struggling to find any rhythm. But Krajinovic would mount one of the greatest comebacks of the year, clawing back to force a decider and eventually book his spot in the championship.

Elated and relieved, Krajinovic entered Sunday's final in search of a second title at the ATP Challenger Tour event. In 2017, he emerged victorious and history would repeat itself on a warm yet overcast afternoon. With the trophy on the line, he would concede an early break to Belgium's Arthur De Greef, but streaked to the finish line from there. The Serbian reeled off 12 of the next 14 games to take the title 6-3, 6-1.

It was Krajinovic's 10th Challenger title in total and first in two years. The 27-year-old is back in the Top 60 of the ATP Rankings, capping a dominant six-week stretch that also included a Challenger final in Sophia Antipolis and run to the title match at the ATP 250 in Budapest. He is 15-2 since the beginning of April.

But the drama was not finished after Krajinovic lifted the Heilbronn trophy. Sitting one spot out of the Roland Garros main draw cut and having missed the deadline to sign in for qualifying, anxiety was high in the Serbian's camp. He needed one more withdrawal ahead of the 10am deadline on Monday (when qualifying begins) to punch his ticket to the second Grand Slam of the year. And with just hours to spare, Andrey Rublev would oblige, pulling out with a lingering back injury. Krajinovic's dream week proved to be extra special.

In other action, Joao Menezes became the 18th first-time winner this year, claiming his maiden Challenger title on the clay of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. He defeated Corentin Moutet 7-6(2), 7-6(7).

Jason Jung lifted a trophy for a fourth straight year, prevailing on the hard courts of Gwangju, South Korea, on Sunday. Jung defeated Dudi Sela 6-4, 6-2, capping an impressive week that saw him drop just one set.

And in Lisbon, Roberto Carballes Baena earned a second title of the season with a stunning comeback over Facundo Bagnis. Trailing by a set and a break, he fought back for a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-1 win. Also the champion on home soil in Murcia, Spain, last month, he is now 7-3 in Challenger finals.

 

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Schwartzman Returns To Top 20, Mover Of The Week

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 7:50pm

No. 20 Diego Schwartzman, +4
The Argentine did not drop a set en route to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 semi-final at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. Schwartzman defeated Yoshihito Nishioka, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Matteo Berrettini, before shocking Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals. After falling to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three sets in the last four, the 26-year-old re-enters the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings, at No. 20, for the first time since 24 February.

No. 6 (Career High) Stefanos Tsitsipas, +1
For the sixth time this season, Tsitsipas rises to a career-high ATP Ranking. After a runner-up finish at the Mutua Madrid Open (l. to Djokovic), the #NextGenATP Greek defeated home favourites Jannik Sinner and Fabio Fognini en route to the semi-finals in Rome. Tsitsipas did not manage to join Novak Djokovic (2011 Madrid & Rome) as the second man to defeat Rafael Nadal in back-to-back clay-court tournaments, but jumps one spot to No. 6 in the ATP Rankings.

Read: A Look Back At Rome

No. 26 Fernando Verdasco, +12
The 35-year-old reached his fourth quarter-final in Rome with three Top 30 victories. Verdasco outlasted Kyle Edmund, World No. 4 Dominic Thiem and Karen Khachanov in three sets, before a straight-sets loss to eventual champion Nadal. The Spaniard soars 12 positions to No. 26 in the ATP Rankings, his joint-highest position since 6 July 2014 (No. 24).

Other Notable Top 100 Movers
No. 56 Pablo Carreno Busta, -13
No. 60 Filip Krajinovic, +9
No. 63 (Career High) Casper Ruud, +13
No. 64 Matthew Ebden, -10
No. 74 Roberto Carballes Baena, +12
No. 96 Peter Gojowczyk, -14
No. 97 Aljaz Bedene, -20

ATP Cup FAQ

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 3:30pm

What is the ATP Cup?
The ATP Cup is an annual 24-country team competition featuring US$15 million prize money and a maximum of 750 singles and 250 doubles ATP Rankings points. ATP is staging the event in partnership with Tennis Australia.

When and where will it be played?
The ATP Cup will begin the ATP Tour each season, starting on the Friday before Week 1. The tournament will be a 10-day event finishing on the final Sunday of Week 1. The inaugural event in 2020 will be held from Friday 3 – Sunday 12 January. The ATP Cup will be played alongside an ATP 250 event in Doha that will occupy Week 1 of the calendar. The group stages competition will be hosted across three Australian cities - Sydney, Brisbane and Perth - over six days. Immediately following the group stages will be the four-day knockout stage – quarter-finals over 2 days, semi-finals and final – all to be played on the Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.

How does the tournament work?
The 24 teams are divided into six groups of four for group stage, round-robin play. The six winners of each group and the two best second-placed finishers across the groups emerge to contest the eight-country knockout stage.

What is the format?
Each tie will comprise two singles and one doubles match. The country winning two matches wins the tie. Every country will be guaranteed to play three ties in the group stages. Singles will be best-of-three tie-break sets. Doubles will feature No-Ad scoring and a Match Tie-break in lieu of a third set.

What is the order of play?
There is a day session and an evening session each day per venue. The first singles matches will be played at 10am local time, starting with the No. 2 players in each tie, followed by the No. 1 players, with the doubles to follow. All doubles matches will be played regardless of whether the tie is decided after the two singles matches.

How does a country qualify for the ATP Cup and which of its players get to play?
A minimum of three ATP ranked players, including two members with singles ATP Ranking points, are required for a country to be eligible to qualify. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking.

How will entries work?
At the first entry deadline (13 September), a country will gain acceptance into the event based on the singles ATP Ranking of the country’s No. 1 singles player. The qualifying country’s second-highest-ranked singles player will gain acceptance at the same time. If either of the two accepted singles players drop outside their country’s top two ranked singles players at the second entry deadline (13 November), either player may withdraw from the event. Remaining team members (up to an additional three players) will gain acceptance at the 13 November entry deadline, based on the current ATP Rankings.

Rankings to be used for entries are the 52-week ATP Rankings. A Protected Ranking can be used to enter provided the player’s Protected Ranking is valid through the start of the competition; but it will not be used for team seeding.

At the second entry deadline (13 November), the remaining six teams (Nos. 19-24) will qualify and all qualified players from all teams will be committed.

When will the teams be announced?
The top 18 teams will be announced after the 13 September deadline. The remaining six teams will be announced at the 13 November deadline.

Will there be a Wild Card team?
A Wild Card will only be awarded to the host team (Australia) if it does not qualify by ATP Rankings at the first entry deadline inside the Top 18 teams. If the host team receives a wild card, it will be announced together, in addition to the top 18 teams after the first entry deadline and five (rather than six) additional teams will qualify at the second entry deadline.

What are the ATP Cup Standings?
The ATP Cup Standings is a provisional entry list for the ATP Cup, ordered by the ATP Ranking (or Protected Ranking) of a country's highest-ranked singles player. ATP Cup Standings also show which players within each country would qualify for a place in their country’s team, subject to player entry rules.

What if a country’s top-ranked singles player does not commit to play the event at the time of the first entry deadline?
The country’s eligibility to qualify at the first entry deadline is determined by the singles ATP Ranking of its next-highest ranked entered singles player.

When will the seedings and draw be made?
The locations, seeds and groupings for the top 18 teams will be announced soon after the first entry deadline. At this stage, each of the six groups will have three teams. The remaining teams will be drawn and announced soon after the second entry deadline using the 11 November ATP Rankings, with each additional team drawn at random to a group.

Will a Team Captain be assigned?
Each team will have a captain, selected by the No. 1 singles player in consultation with their team members. The No. 1 singles player will be the captain should one not be selected. The captain must be of the same nationality and meet one of the following criteria: be a Division I ATP player member, an ATP coach member or a qualified coach of a national federation. If a captain is requested that does not fulfill either criteria requirement, a request for an exemption can be made.

Is on-court coaching allowed?
Yes. Coaching will be permitted by the team captain, the competing player’s individual coach or fellow player team members. The player may only receive coaching during changeovers and set breaks.

Can a player play singles and doubles?
Yes. The team captain decides who plays doubles. The on-site ATP Ranking order must be respected for singles matches. For example, the No. 1 ranked player on a team based on on-site ATP Rankings at the start of the competition cannot play No. 2 singles. Protected Ranking will be considered the official ranking for line-up position.

POINTS & RANKING

What is the maximum number of points a player can earn?
Singles: An undefeated player who plays and wins all possible singles matches could earn 750 ATP Rankings points. Doubles: An undefeated player who plays and wins all possible doubles matches will earn 250 ATP Rankings points.

Who can earn points at this event?
All players will have the opportunity to earn ATP Rankings points and prize money.

How will be the points for each player be awarded in a team competition?
Singles: ATP Rankings points are awarded for a match win in each round and the amount of rankings points depends on the ranking of the opponent and the round of the result. Doubles: ATP Doubles Rankings points are awarded for a match win in each round and do not depend on the ranking of the opponents or the round of the result.

How will the ATP Cup points work in a player’s ranking?
ATP Cup will count as an additional event in a player’s ranking breakdown.

How much is the prize money?
The total player prize money is US$15 million. There are three different components of total prize money awarded to players. This includes a participation fee, prize money for individual match wins and prize money for tie victories.

Prize Money (All figures in U.S. Dollars)
Total Prize Money: $15,000,000

Per Participation:

NO. 1 PLAYER

Entry Order Fee 1-3* $250,000 4-6* $225,000 7-12* $200,000 13-18* $150,000 19-24**^ $75,000

*Entry order (team) as of 13 September 2019
** Entry order (team) as of 13 November 2019
^ Top 20 player will receive $150,000

NO. 2 PLAYER

Ranking Fee 1-10 $200,000 11-20 $150,000 21-30 $75,000 31-50 $60,000 51-100 $45,000 101-200 $30,000 201-300 $20,000 301+ $15,000

Ranking as of date of entry of team

NOS. 3-5 PLAYER

Doubles Ranking Fee 1-20 $30,000 21-50 $20,000 51-100 $12,500 101-150 $10,000 151+ $7,500 Singles Ranking Fee 1-100 $20,000 101-300 $12,500 301+ $7,500

Ranking as of November 11, 2019

Per Individual Wins:

   #1 Singles Win  #2 Singles Win  Doubles Win (per player)  Final Win  $290,400  $204,000  $61,800  Semi-final Win  $151,000  $106,000  $32,150  Quarter-final Win  $78,350  $55,100  $16,700  Group Stage Win  $39,400  $27,600  $8,375

Per Team Wins:

   Per Player  Final Win  $48,760  Semi-final Win $29,280  Quarter-final Win  $17,620  Group Stage Win  $9,850

All 3-5 players on the team (whether the player plays a match or not) earn the same amount for a team win.

 

ATP Ranking Points

Singles

 Opponent Ranking  1-10  11-25  26-50  51-100  101+  Final  250 200 150  75  50  Semi-final Win  180 140  105  50  35  Quarter-final Win  120 100 75 35 25  Group Win  75 65 50 25 20
Maximum 750 points for undefeated player

Singles Player Ranked 301+

 Opponent Ranking  1-100  101+  Final  85  55  Semi-final Win  55  35  Quarter-final Win  35  25  Group Win  25  15

Doubles

   Win vs. Any Team  Final Win  85  Semi-final Win  55  Quarter-final Win  35  Group Stage Win  25

Maximum 250 points for undefeated doubles player.

*All the above information is subject to change by the ATP rules and regulations.

ATP Cup Standings Reveal Countries Leading Charge Towards Australia In 2019

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 12:54pm

Beginning today with the launch of the ATP Cup Standings, tennis fans will have insight into which countries and players may compete at the inaugural 24-nation ATP Cup in Australia next January.

Serbia and Spain currently occupy the top two spots in the inaugural ATP Cup Standings, which are based on the ATP Ranking position of a country’s top-ranked singles player. Novak Djokovic currently holds the top spot in the ATP Rankings with 12,355 points, while Rafael Nadal is in second place on 7,945 points.

View ATP Cup Standings

The provisional ATP Cup Standings are for illustrative purposes only, providing fans with an indication as to which players and teams are currently in contention to compete at the inaugural event in January 2020. Player/team participation will be subject to each player’s commitment to enter by the event’s two entry deadlines of 13 September (first 18 teams), or 13 November (remaining 6 teams).

The ATP Cup Standings will update each Monday that new ATP Rankings are released, giving fans weekly guidance on the teams and players most likely to be part of the blockbuster ATP Tour season opener from 3-12 January 2020.

“The ATP Cup Standings are already beginning to take shape and the players are excited to see this come to life,” said ATP Chief Player Officer, Ross Hutchins. “It’s going to be intriguing to see the countries battle in the coming months to earn their berths. On a weekly basis fans can track which countries look like likely contenders and even which players have the best chance of being part of their respective teams.”

To appear on the ATP Cup Standings a country must have at least two players with an ATP singles ranking and at least one other player with a singles or doubles ranking. A country may have up to five players. If a team has five players, at least three must have an ATP Singles ranking. If less than five players, a team must have at least two players with an ATP Singles ranking. The Standings enable fans to click and expand each selected country and see which players are leading the charge to represent their nation at the inaugural event.

The top 18 teams as of 13 September will be eligible to qualify for the tournament, which features US$15 million prize money and valuable ATP Rankings points. An additional six teams qualify at the second entry deadline of 13 November.

The 24 teams will be divided into six groups of four, with two groups each assigned to the three host cities: Perth, Brisbane and Sydney. The knockout stage, to be played in Sydney, will feature eight teams: the six group winners and the two best-performing second-placed teams.

The two highest-ranked singles players of the 18 teams to qualify at the first entry deadline will be eligible to compete. A country’s remaining team members shall be determined by their rankings at the second entry deadline.

The tournament will be hosted at Perth's RAC Arena, Brisbane's Pat Rafter Arena and the Ken Rosewall Arena at Sydney Olympic Park, where the venue will undergo a AU$50.5 million redevelopment. Sydney has secured the knockout stages of the tournament through 2022.

Each tie comprises two best-of-three-sets singles and one doubles played under the regular ATP Tour doubles format (including no-ad points and a match tie-break in lieu of a third set). On-court coaching will be allowed during change of ends and set breaks.

Editors’ Notes

If Australia does not qualify at the first entry deadline, the host country will receive a wild card, leaving five qualifying spots open at the time of the second entry deadline.

An undefeated singles player could earn 750 ATP Rankings points; an undefeated doubles player could earn 250 points.

Players benefitting from an ATP Protected Ranking are also eligible to enter the ATP Cup ahead of either of the two entry deadlines, provided that the Protected Ranking is still valid at the time of the event. For example, this could potentially apply to Andy Murray (Great Britain) who currently has a protected ranking of 2. 

A full ATP Cup FAQ can be found at www.ATPCup.com.

Nadal Turns Up Heat In Year-End No. 1 Battle With Djokovic

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 7:51am

Rafael Nadal did not just win his first title of 2019 on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. By defeating top seed Novak Djokovic in the final, the 32-year-old Spaniard also turned up the heat on the Serbian in the battle for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking.

With the 1,000 ATP Ranking points that Nadal (3,505) earned with his triumph at the Foro Italico, the nine-time Rome champion now trails first-placed Djokovic (4,005) by just 500 points in the ATP Race To London, which serves as a barometer for the chase for the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking. If Djokovic had emerged victorious, he would have taken a 1,300-point lead in the Race. 

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

On the Parisian terre battue, Nadal could take the Race lead regardless of how Djokovic performs by lifting his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires. Since the Roland Garros winner earns 800 more points than the finalist, Nadal would move into first even if Djokovic is his opponent in the final.

So although Djokovic's grip on the top spot in the ATP Rankings is in no immediate danger because defending champion Nadal cannot gain any additional points at Roland Garros this year, the battle for year-end No. 1 is red hot. And Djokovic believes his rival is the player to watch at the season’s second Grand Slam championship.

“Nadal [is the] number one favourite, without a doubt, then everyone else,” Djokovic said.

Just a week ago, the tennis world was left wondering about Nadal’s status. He had not yet lifted a trophy on the year, his longest early-season trophy drought since 2004, when he captured his maiden tour-level crown at Sopot in August. The World No. 2 arrived in the Italian capital without making a clay-court final in three tries; all semi-final appearances in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid.

But Nadal now has momentum heading into Roland Garros. It may not become clear until later in the year when Djokovic begins to drop more points off his ATP Ranking, but Nadal is making a push to challenge for the year-end No. 1 spot.

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Gulbis To Face Zverev In Geneva

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 7:18am

Latvian Ernests Gulbis set up a second-round meeting with top seed Alexander Zverev on Sunday at the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open. Gulbis beat Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka 6-2, 7-6(7), breaking six times out of 15 chances.

In other main-draw action, Cordoba Open champion Juan Ignacio Londero beat Germany's Mischa Zverev 6-4, 6-4. Grigor Dimitrov, the top seed in qualifying, reached the main draw with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Italian Thomas Fabbiano. Dimitrov, the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion, will face Argentine Federico Delbonis in the first round.

Brain Game: Nadal’s Serve + 1 Proved Winning Math Against Djokovic

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 7:06am

Hit a serve. Vaporize a forehand.

Rafael Nadal defeated Novak Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to win his ninth Internazionali BNL d'Italia title in Rome on Sunday with his favourite 1-2 punch of hitting a forehand as the first shot after the serve leading the way.

Djokovic was a step slower after two grueling three-set night matches to reach the final and did not have his trademark speed around the court to counter Nadal's supreme clay court Serve +1 forehand tactic. Djokovic spent most of the match trying to initially attack Nadal's less potent backhand wing, but Nadal constantly found a way to turn backhands into run-around forehands, especially as the first shot after the serve.

Nadal's Serve +1 Groundstrokes
• Serve +1 Forehands = 42 (79%)
• Serve +1 Backhands = 11 (21%)

Nadal hit 79 percent (42/53) forehands as the first shot after the serve, instantly putting Djokovic on the ropes with heavy forehands that stretched the Serb out to the edges of the court. Why does Nadal have such a thirst for forehands right after serve? It's a bigger weapon than his backhand that can inflict more pain and deliver greater disguise with the open-stance footwork that takes away precious tenths of seconds of anticipation for opponents.

Watch Rome Final Highlights:

Nadal's Serve +1 Win Percentage
• Serve +1 Forehands = Won 71% (30/42)
• Serve +1 Backhands = Won 45% (5/11)

There is not a part of the court that Nadal will not run to in order to turn a backhand into a forehand, especially with this specific strategy to begin the point. Of the 42 Serve +1 forehands Nadal hit in the match, more than half (23/42) of them were returns directed back through the Deuce court to the Spaniard's backhand that he simply ran around.

Nadal's Serve +1 forehand strategy delivers so much power at the beginning of the point with the viscous "one-two" combination that he is able to effectively win the point before it matures into a lengthy rally, which normally becomes far more even. Nadal's lethal Serve +1 forehand combination ended the point in three shots or five shots a combined 63 per cent (19/30) of the time.

Nadal Serve +1 Forehand Points Won: Rally Length
• 3 shots = 10 points
• 5 shots = 9 points
• 7 shots = 4 points
• 9 shots = 2 points
• 11 shots = 2 points
• 13 shots = 2 points
• 17 shots = 1 point

Djokovic, widely regarded as having one of the best backhands of all-time, also did all he could to hit a forehand as the first shot after the serve. The Serb hit 71 per cent (56/79) Serve + 1 forehands for the match, winning just over half (52%) of them.

Double Digit Rally Length
A secondary area of domination for Nadal was in longer rallies of double digits, where 31 lactic-acid inducing points occurred. Nadal won a dominant 71 per cent (23/31) of these points with superior defense out wide in the court with both forehands and backhands, constantly wearing Djokovic down in the longer exchanges.

Djokovic hit 12 drops shots for the match, winning half of them. Five of the six drop shots he won were in rallies of single digits, but of the six he lost, only three were in single digits, while three were in double digit rallies where he looked to stop trading blows with Nadal from the back of the court.

It was an unusual final with an unusual score line between the top two players in the world. Could it be a dress rehearsal for a Sunday final in Paris in three weeks’ time?

Editor's Note: ATP Brain Game author Craig O'Shannessy is part of Novak Djokovic's coaching team.

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Tsonga Topples Monte-Carlo Finalist Lajovic In Lyon

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 6:26am

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won the inaugural Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon two years ago. And the former World No. 5 appears ready to push for a second title at this ATP 250 tournament this year.

Tsonga defeated fifth seed and recent Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters finalist Dusan Lajovic 7-6(4), 6-4 on Sunday to reach the second round, in which he will face Aussie Bernard Tomic or Canadian qualifier Steven Diez.

Tsonga played the big points well against the Serbian, saving three of the four break points he faced while converting two of his three chances to advance after one hour and 45 minutes. The Frenchman now leads Lajovic 3-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, winning eight of the nine sets they have played.

The 34-year-old has done well to bounce back from a left knee surgery that kept him out for seven months last year. At Montpellier in February, he captured his first ATP Tour title since Antwerp in 2017. At the time, Tsonga was a 210th-ranked wild card. But the 17-time ATP Tour champion is already up to No. 85 in the ATP Rankings.

Tsonga has long enjoyed success in his home country, lifting nine of his trophies in France. He is trying to win multiple titles at a French tournament for the third time (also Marseille, Metz).

Also advancing Sunday was Aussie John Millman, who defeated Spaniard Pablo Andujar 6-1, 6-3 in 67 minutes. Millman will try to make his first quarter-final since Acapulco when he plays fourth seed and #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in the second round.

Nadal: 'Now Is The Moment To Keep Going'

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 4:55am
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Rafael Nadal has never been one to dwell on the past and he made that clear throughout the week at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“You don't complain when you play bad, when you have problems, when you have pains. You put [on] the right attitude [and] the right face. You go on court every day with the passion to keep practising,” said Nadal. "That's something that I did during all of my career…that’s why I was able to always have the chance to be back. Here we are. Important title, important moment. Now is the moment to keep going.”

The Spaniard was reluctant to talk about his losses throughout the European clay swing or why he hadn’t won a title this season, marking the first time since 2004 that he hadn’t prevailed at an ATP Tour event in the first four months of the year. But with his victory over Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final in Rome, Nadal was very willing to revel in the moment.

“You were asking for titles. Finally, I have a title,” said Nadal. "For me, the most important thing is feeling myself playing well and healthy, with the energy that I need. If that happens, the experience is that I’m going to fight for titles sooner or later.

“Of course, playing against Novak is always a special thing because it’s part of the history of this sport. It’s always a special feeling. Today was for me and the last couple of times have been for him, but I’m happy for the title more than winning against Novak. I am especially happy because the level was very high.”

Nadal was in top form from the first ball in Rome, dropping 13 games to reach the final and recording four 6-0 sets throughout the week. His 6-0 opening set in Sunday’s final against Djokovic marked the first time either player achieved that score in their 54 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings. But while the opening set sent shockwaves through the Foro Italico, the Spaniard was far more pleased with his performance.

“I don't care about winning 6-0 or 6-4, to be honest,” said Nadal. “I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes, playing so aggressive, changing directions. These kind of days happen, but it’s not usual and probably will not happen again.

“The first set is just an important part of the match. It showed that I was able to play at this level. That’s important for today, important for tomorrow.”

Nadal was characteristically candid about his struggles the European clay swing season, describing his semi-final loss at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters to Fabio Fognini as a “low moment” and first-round win at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell over Leonardo Mayer as “a disaster.” But the Spaniard continued to work tirelessly to find solutions and his efforts paid off in Rome.

Nadal will head to Roland Garros as the favourite to win a 12th crown in Paris. He's made it clear with his tennis this week that it will take a top player in top form to halt him.

“Every day was a little bit better. Yesterday was probably my best match on clay so far this season before today, because today I played better than yesterday. So that's it. I'm happy to reach that level in the last tournament before a Grand Slam,” said Nadal. “But, as I said, don't want to talk about Grand Slams now. I never did in the past. For me, what means a lot is that every tournament is so special for me. [To] have the chance to win again here in Rome is unique.”

Djokovic: Rafa Got The Better Of Me Today

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 4:44am

Novak Djokovic had taken the lead in his historic FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry with Rafael Nadal, in large part, thanks to his backhand getting the better of Nadal's forehand. The crosscourt matchup carried the Serbian to his 28th win in their rivalry in January during the Australian Open final.

But on Sunday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome, Djokovic couldn't replicate the tactic, and Nadal, with flicks of the wrist, added a new storyline to their growing rivalry, which Djokovic still leads 28-26.

“In the second set, it was better. Just overall, I was lacking a little bit more of a dynamic movement, kind of attacking the ball. He's got a very difficult, heavy topspin. He can change directions so easily. He's got a great flick of the wrist. He's so talented on any surface, but clay especially. He covers the court so well,” Djokovic said.

“The shots that you can win the rally or a point against 99 per cent of players, with him, it doesn't work. It takes an extra shot more. Yeah, sometimes you just have to position yourself well, whether you step into the court or you back up.

“My kind of backhand is maybe not as Dominic Thiem's or someone else's who can produce a lot of spin. I step in and try to take the ball early. It works, sometimes it doesn't. Today he just managed to get the best out of that exchange.”

Djokovic now trails Nadal on the all-time ATP Masters 1000 titles leaderboard, 33 to 34. But the Serbian should be pleased with his overall body of work at the season's three clay-court Masters 1000 events.

Djokovic, after an early exit at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, won the Mutua Madrid Open title last week (d. Tsitsipas) and made his ninth final in Rome (4-5) before falling 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to Nadal.

“I'm really glad that I managed to get into the third set, considering the first set where I was blown away from the court. Obviously third set was not much different from the first. Actually, first three, four games of the third set were quite close. Maybe that's where I had a slight chance to build on the momentum that I had from winning the second set,” Djokovic said.

“I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side. He used it very well. He's been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week. He was just too strong today.”

Djokovic easily could have been headed home before the weekend. He saved two match points against Juan Martin del Potro on Friday evening before making the semi-finals. Djokovic was pushed to three sets again Saturday evening during his semi-final against Diego Schwartzman.

“I think it was a great week, considering I was one shot away [from losing in the] quarter-finals against Del Potro. To get to the finals is really a great result,” Djokovic said. “I haven't played my best today, I haven't felt my best. At the same time I managed to fight. That's the positive I take from it.”

A Look Back At The 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 4:33am

Another incredible week at the Foro Italico has come to an end. From the world's best playing double duty on Thursday to night sessions that extended well past midnight, fans witnessed another edition of thrilling tennis as Rafael Nadal clinched his ninth crown in Rome and a record-setting 34th ATP Masters 1000 title. Relive the best moments of the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Nadal Wins Ninth Rome Title... Nadal picked up his first ATP Tour title this season with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 win over Novak Djokovic. The opening set was the first-ever 6-0 set in 54 FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings between the pair. After three consecutive semi-final showings during the European clay swing at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and Mutua Madrid Open,Nadal broke the streak by defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas, turning the tables after losing to the #NextGenATP Greek last week in Madrid.

Nadal was in brilliant form from the first ball in Rome. The Spaniard dropped just 13 games to reach the final and dished out four 6-0 sets throughout the week. He finished the tournament leading in service games won (41 of 43, 95%), break points saved (13 of 15, 97%) and return games won (21 of 32, 66%). 

Cabal/Farah Defend Their Crown... Third seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah successfully defended their title in Rome with a convincing 6-1, 6-3 victory over sixth seeds Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus. The Colombian duo are the first pair since Guy Forget and Yannick Noah (1986-1987) to defend their crown at this event. Cabal/Farah have been in top form during the European clay swing and also prevailed last month in Barcelona (d. Murray/Soares).

Another Big Week For Novak... Despite the loss to Rafa, Djokovic proved he's back to top form with his tennis and resilience at the Foro Italico. The Serbian put in a heroic effort to save two match points in his quarter-final win over Juan Martin del Potro and came out on top in a grueling semi-final against Diego Schwartzman. Djokovic simply ran out of steam after spending nearly eight hours on court since Friday night, but dug deep to extend the championship match to a deciding set.

Djokovic reached his 49th ATP Masters 1000 final this week (33-16) and achieved back-to-back finals in Madrid and Rome for the third time in his career.

We Meet Again... For a second straight Saturday, Nadal and Tsitsipas squared off in an ATP Masters 1000 semi-final. But this time, Nadal had the upper hand all match against the reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion, breaking the 20-year-old Tsitsipas once in each set to advance 6-3, 6-4 and make his first clay-court final of the season.

Nadal was playing confidently, whipping his forehand crosscourt and up the line against the 6'4" Greek, whose heavy ball, in overcast Rome conditions, didn't travel quite as quickly as it did in the Spanish capital. But Tsitsipas left Rome feeling confident about his chances at Roland Garros, and about his clay-court season so far. The right-hander won the Millennium Estoril Open before making back-to-back semi-finals in Madrid and Rome. 

Diego's Breakthrough... Schwartzman enjoyed two milestone moments at the Foro Italico by scoring his first Top 6 win over Kei Nishikori to reach his first Masters 1000 semi-final without dropping a set. The Argentine fell to Djokovic in three grueling sets, but won plenty of new fans with his speed and heart throughout the week. Schwartzman arrived at No. 24 in the ATP Rankings, but is projected to break back into the Top 20 on Monday.

Late-Night Thriller... No one, including Del Potro, knew what to expect as the 30-year-old returned to the ATP Tour on a full-time basis this European clay-court swing. The Argentine had played only one tournament before the stretch, in February in Delray Beach, before opting for more rehab instead of more matches.

But the more Del Potro played, the better he looked. The Argentine was clubbing winners with his forehand against Djokovic in the quarter-finals, but Del Potro was also pushing Djokovic around the court with his backhand, once a weakness many players sought to exploit. That wasn't the case on Friday evening, however, as Del Potro smashed inside-out backhand winners and often outplayed Djokovic in baseline rallies.

The Serbian, however, saved both match points from 4/6 in the second-set tie-break and never lost belief, advancing after three hours on early Saturday morning 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-4 to beat Del Potro for the third time in Rome and the 16th time overall (16-4).

Read & Watch: Djokovic Saves Two Match Points Against Del Potro

Federer Returns To Rome... Roger Federer continued to show that he still has plenty of great clay-court tennis left in him. The 37-year-old won two matches on Thursday, defeating Joao Sousa before saving two match points to take out Borna Coric in an epic third-set tie-break. A right leg injury forced Federer to withdraw before his quarter-final against Tsitsipas, but he'll arrive at Roland Garros with plenty of confidence after his performances in Madrid and Rome.

Manic Thursday... A wet Wednesday in Rome washed out an entire day of play, leading to a blockbuster Thursday of double-headers at the Foro Italico. All eight players who reached the quarter-finals — including Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer — had to win two matches in the same day to do so. Fernando Verdasco caused the first upset of the day, when he ousted Dominic Thiem after two hours and 44 minutes at 12:55. Less than six hours later, at 18:28, he closed out a two-hour, nine-minute win over Karen Khachanov to reach his first clay-court quarter-final since May 2012. 

Blog: Relive Manic Thursday As It Happened

Italians Cause A Stir...  On the first day of main draw action, 17-year-old #NextGenATP Italian Jannik Sinner energised his home fans with an upset win over four-time ATP Tour titlist Steve Johnson – only his second ATP Tour win and his first at the Masters 1000 level. Rome native Matteo Berrettini did the honours on day three, knocking out No. 5 and 2017 champion Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-5 to celebrate his first Top 5 victory in front of a rocking Roman crowd. 

Read: Sinner Knows His Advantage | Berrettini's Big Win

An Apology To Remember... Alexander Zverev might have lost a doubles match with brother Mischa Zverev at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, but he left the court with a lifetime fan. Zverev put away an overhead at 3-3 in the first set against Klaasen/Venus, bouncing the ball over the fence and into the crowd. At the next changeover, Zverev greeted the young fan whom the ball hit, checking on her and tying one of his headband's around her forehead, leaving the youngster with a big smile on her face. Read More & Watch

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Comeback Colombians: Cabal/Farah Repeat As Rome Champs

Mon, 20/05/2019 - 12:57am

Serving at 4-3, 0/40 in the Rome doubles final on Sunday, Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah did what they've done all week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia: Stayed calm and rallied.

The Colombians were down 2/7 in the Match Tie-break during their quarter-final against Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan, but saved four match points to reach the semi-finals. On Saturday evening, the longtime Colombian pairing lost the first set 6-2 after only 29 minutes against top seeds Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo, yet recovered to prevail in another Match Tie-break.

On Sunday, however, Cabal/Farah skipped the heroics, beating Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus 6-1, 6-3 in only 59 minutes to repeat as Rome champions and win their second ATP Masters 1000 title.

“I kept repeating to myself and to [Cabal], 'If we come back from this game, we got it. Let's just focus to come back from this game,'” Farah said. “And I feel like when you win tournaments, things go your way. That's the way it is. I don't know what it is, I don't know how to explain it... When it's yours, it's yours.”

Cabal/Farah have now won two of the biggest ATP Tour titles this European clay-court swing, having won the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell last month, and they will head into Roland Garros as one of the favourites to make a deep run.

Read Flashback: Cabal/Farah Win Barcelona Title

“We just keep fighting, keep fighting point by point,” Cabal said. “We got the level. We know we can beat anyone and that's what we focus on.”

Cabal/Farah gained two early breaks en route to a 5-0 lead before serving out the opener. Klaasen/Venus rebounded in the second, but the Colombians won eight of the final nine points. The pairing will receive 1,000 ATP Doubles Rankings points and split €284,860.

“Every time you win a 1000 event, it's something very special. There are no words to describe it. To go back-to-back is even more impressive,” Farah said. “It just builds up our confidence as a team.”

Klaasen/Venus were going for their first Masters 1000 team title. They will receive 600 ATP Doubles Rankings points and split €139,020.

“We got off to a somewhat sloppy and slow start and that cost us,” Klaasen said. “We had a few chances, but we obviously aren't happy with how things went out there, and they were too good for us today.”

Nadal Beats Djokovic To Win Ninth Rome Title

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 11:52pm

Rafael Nadal made a clear statement on Sunday: if he is not back in top form, he is very close to it.

The World No. 2 won his ninth Internazionali BNL d’Italia title, overcoming a stern challenge from top seed Novak Djokovic to triumph at the Foro Italico 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 after two hours and 25 minutes. Nadal also broke a tie with Djokovic by claiming a record 34th ATP Masters 1000 crown.

Nadal entered his 50th Masters 1000 final pursuing his first trophy of any kind this season. It was the first time the 32-year-old entered Rome without a victory since 2004, the year he claimed his maiden tour-level crown. And the second seed’s hunger showed, moving to 9-2 in Rome finals to earn a title for the 16th consecutive year.

"What means most to me is this trophy," Nadal said. "Rome is one of the most important tournaments of the year. [It's a big] part of the history of our sport. To be able to win here again is the main thing."

Djokovic, who still leads the pair’s epic FedEx ATP Head2Head series 28-26, did well to overcome the first ‘bagel’ set he has lost since the 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finals against Dominic Thiem. But it appeared that the two tough three-setters he had to go through in the quarter-finals and semi-finals against Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman, respectively, wore on the Serbian’s legs towards the end of this clash.

"I don't care winning 6-0 or 6-4, being honest. That is just a fact. I don't care much," Nadal said. "I played a great first set in all aspects. No mistakes. Playing so aggressive, changing directions. These kind of days happens. It's not usual and probably will not happen again... the first set is just an important part of the match. What helps the first set is [that it] shows that I was able to play at that level."

Time On Court Entering The Final

 Rafael Nadal  3:22  Novak Djokovic  5:34

The last time they had played, in the Australian Open final, Djokovic faced only one break point. Nadal earned 17 break points in this battle, though, and that proved the difference.

"[I'm] happy for the title more than winning against Novak," Nadal said. "I am especially happy because the level was very high."

Djokovic had won nine of the pair’s previous 11 matches, but Nadal wasted no time taking the lead at the Foro Italico. The Serbian dropped balls shorter than usual early on, allowing Nadal to pounce and step into the court to dictate play. It appeared Nadal, who won three 6-0 sets and did not drop a set en route to the final, was the fresher man compared to Djokovic, who was throwing in poor drop shots that gave Nadal easy finishes.

In recent years, Djokovic has thrived in crosscourt rallies between his backhand and Nadal's forehand, but the Spaniard did well to avoid those battles from the back foot, only engaging in those rallies from an offensive position. Nadal broke serve three times in the first set, earning 59 per cent of his return points in the opener.

Although Djokovic did not win a game in the first set, the two sharp crosscourt backhand winners he hit near the end of the opener showed a change of intent, which carried into the second. The Serbian began to play more aggressively, and there was more intensity in his movement on the court. After escaping a 0/40 deficit on his serve at 3-3, he would break to force a decider when Nadal missed wide at 4-5.

But this was the sixth tournament in Nadal’s career in which he won three or more ‘bagel’ sets and in the previous five, he went on to win the title. That did not change in Rome.

The second seed bounced back immediately at the start of the decider. Djokovic went for a forehand down the line facing break point, but left the ball too close to the middle of the court, allowing Nadal to seize control of the rally and eventually break with an aggressive crosscourt backhand to the Serbian's forehand, giving him a 1-0 lead, and he never looked back.

"I'm really glad that I managed to get into the third set, considering the first set where I was blown away from the court. Obviously third set was not much different from the first," Djokovic said. "I was just running out of fuel a little bit today. Just kind of missed that half a step, especially on the backhand side. He used it very well. He's been playing some terrific tennis throughout the entire week. He was just too strong today."

Nadal was broken just twice all week, holding in 41 of his 43 service games and saving 13 of the 15 break points he faced. For his victory, he earns 1,000 ATP Ranking points and €958,055. Djokovic takes home 600 points and €484,950.

Did You Know?
It took until the 142nd set in the pair's epic rivalry for either player to claim a 6-0 set. 

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Scouting Report: 20 Things To Watch In Lyon & Geneva

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 11:41pm

ATP 250 titles are on the line this week at clay-court events in Lyon and Geneva. At the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Roberto Bautista Agut are the top two seeds, while 2017 titlist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and #NextGenATP Canadians Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime will also go for the trophy.

At the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open, reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev, two-time champion Stan Wawrinka, and defending champion Marton Fucsovics head the field.

Draws: Lyon | Geneva

10 THINGS TO WATCH IN LYON
1) Terrific Tsonga:
Tsonga won the 2017 edition of the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Lyon, beating Basilashvili and Tomas Berdych in the final two rounds. Tsonga ended an injury-plagued 2018 ranked No. 259 but is back in the Top 100 after a 14-7 start to 2019, which includes winning his 17th ATP Tour singles title at Montpellier.

2) Top Seed: Basilashvili made the final four at Lyon in 2017 ranked No. 71, before losing to Tsonga. The Georgian did not play at Lyon in 2018, but since then, he has been on the rise, winning his first two titles at Beijing and Hamburg last year and hitting a career-high ATP Ranking of No. 17 on 1 April.

3) Stellar Spaniard: Second seed Bautista Agut has notched numerous milestones in 2019. He won a title in January for the fourth straight season, earning his ninth ATP Tour singles trophy in Doha. The Spaniard beat World No. 1 Novak Djokovic en route to the Doha crown, and defeated Djokovic again in Miami. Bautista Agut also reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open.

4) Dynamite Denis: Third seed Shapovalov made his third ATP Masters 1000 semi-final in Miami before he turned 20 on 15 April, making him one of five players who are tied for the second-most ATP Masters 1000 semi-finals as a teenager (Rafael Nadal stands alone in first place with eight). He also cracked the Top 20 in the ATP Rankings for the first time two weeks before his 20th birthday.

5) Fantastic Felix: Auger-Aliassime is seeded just one place behind Shapovalov, and the 18-year-old, who ended last year ranked No. 109, has rocketed up the ATP Rankings this year to join his friend and compatriot in the Top 30. Auger-Aliassime’s own run to the Miami semi-finals made him the third-youngest Masters 1000 semi-finalist – just behind Shapovalov’s 2017 Montreal semi-final run.

6) Wild Ones: Shapovalov, Richard Gasquet, and Corentin Moutet received the wild cards this week. Gasquet is playing just his third event since 31 October 2018, having missed the first four months of 2019 due to groin surgery.

7) First Time for Everything: There have been eight first-time ATP Tour singles titlists so far this year, and one of the eight is in the Lyon draw: Reilly Opelka, who hit 43 aces in both his semi-final and final victories en route to his first title at the New York Open in February.

8) Serbian Surprise: Fifth seed Dusan Lajovic was 0-4 in ATP Tour semi-finals entering the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, but the Serbian raced to that final without dropping a set before losing to Fabio Fognini. Ranked No. 48 at the time, he became the lowest-ranked Monte-Carlo finalist since 2001.

9) Doubling Up: Last year’s Wimbledon finalists Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus, who reached the Rome final, form the top-seeded doubles team in Lyon. Klaasen and Venus are looking for their first ATP Tour doubles title since their last triumph in France – when they claimed the Marseille trophy in February 2018.

10) Sinner Shining: Seventeen-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner moved through qualifying in Lyon to qualify for the main draw of an ATP Tour event for the second time, having also done so at the Hungarian Open. The teenager won his first Masters 1000 match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, ousting Steve Johnson.

10 THINGS TO WATCH IN GENEVA
1) Top of the Heap: Top seed Zverev comes into Geneva seeking his first title of the season. The German’s best result of the season came in Acapulco, where he made the final. Zverev has been ranked inside the Top 5 of the ATP Rankings each week since 11 September 2017.

2) Stan the Man: Since Geneva returned to the ATP Tour calendar in 2015, Wawrinka has appeared at every edition of the event, and has advanced to at least the quarter-finals each time. Former World No. 3 Wawrinka is 10-2 at the tournament, notching consecutive titles in 2016 and 2017.

3) The Champ Returns: Fucsovics came into his Geneva debut in 2018 with no ATP Tour semi-finals to his name, but garnered his first ATP Tour semi-final, final, and title all in one fell swoop. Fucsovics, who beat two-time defending champion Wawrinka in last year’s quarter-finals, became the first Hungarian to win an ATP Tour singles title since Balazs Taroczy at 1982 Hilversum.

4) Going Wild: Wawrinka joins Feliciano Lopez and Janko Tipsarevic as wild cards. Former World No. 8 Tipsarevic reached the second round at Geneva in 2017, but retired during that match. The Serb missed the entirety of 2018 due to injury, but has already earned three tour-level wins this year.

5) Chilean Champion: Only five players have won multiple ATP Tour singles titles this year, and 22-year-old Cristian Garin is one of them. The Chilean claimed his first title in Houston in April, saving five match points in his second-round win over Jeremy Chardy. Three weeks later, in Munich, Garin saved two match points in a quarter-final victory over Zverev en route to his second title.

6) Grigor The Qualifier: With no additional main draw wild cards available, 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov accepted a wild card into qualifying, and won two matches to reach the main draw. It was the Bulgarian’s first qualifying appearance since the 2012 Rolex Paris Masters.

7) Title Time: There have been eight first-time ATP Tour singles titlists so far this year, and three of them are in the Geneva draw, including Houston and Munich champion Garin. Fifth seed Radu Albot earned his first title at Delray Beach, becoming the first player Moldovan to win a title. Juan Ignacio Londero, who won his first title on home soil in Cordoba, is also competing in Geneva.

8) Solid Seeds: Sixth seed Adrian Mannarino, seventh seed Matthew Ebden, and eighth seed Andreas Seppi round out the seeded players. Seppi started the season strongly, beating Top 20 players Stefanos Tsitsipas and Diego Schwartzman en route to his first final since 2015 in Sydney.

9) Former Finalists: Three players who have finished as Geneva runners-up in the past four years return to the event: 2015 finalist Joao Sousa, 2017 runner-up Mischa Zverev, and last year’s finalist Peter Gojowczyk.

10) Doubles Duty: Top seeds Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic have returned to the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open to try to defend their 2018 title. That crown is the most recent title they won together, and one of the four titles they won as a team in 2018, which includes the Australian Open.

Preview: Djokovic And Nadal Face Off In Rome Final

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 8:19am

A treasured rivalry will be renewed as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal square off for the title at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. They co-own the record for most ATP Masters 1000 titles (33) and the winner of Sunday's final will hold it solo.

This is their eighth meeting in Rome. Nadal edges Djokovic 4-3 in their mini-series at the ATP Masters 1000 event, which includes four finals (2-2). Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 28-25.

“He's my greatest rival of all time, for sure,” said Djokovic. “I've had so many matches against him. We have the longest rivalry of tennis of all time. Every time we get to play each other, it's a thrill. It's the ultimate challenge.”

Djokovic has had a much harder road to the final than his opponent. While Nadal dropped just 13 games and dished out three 6-0 sets, the Serbian saved two match points to defeat Juan Martin del Potro in an epic quarter-final and followed it up with another grueling three-set win over Diego Schwartzman. The Serbian has spent five hours and 34 minutes on court since Friday, compared to three hours and 22 minutes for Nadal.

“It's obvious that I played more than Rafa. At the same time, I'm in the finals and that's a great success,” said Djokovic. "It's not the first time I find myself in these kinds of situations. I feel okay, [but] of course not as fresh as at the beginning of the week. It is what it is. I'll try to recover for tomorrow.”

Who will win the latest @FedEx ATP Head2Head clash between these players?#ibi19

— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) May 18, 2019

The top seed has compiled a greater track record against the world’s best players than Nadal has over the past year. Djokovic is 18-1 against Top 10 players since Wimbledon and 5-0 in 2019, compared to 1-3 this season for the Spaniard. The four-time Rome champion is hoping to lift his first title here since 2015 (d. Federer), but knows he'll need to bring his best tennis to defeat Nadal.

“He's one of the greatest champions this game has ever seen. His mentality, his approach, his resilience, ability to fight back after long absence from the tour, injuries, surgeries…he's had it all,” said Djokovic. “He keeps on showing to the world why he's one of the biggest legends of tennis history. I have the greatest respect for him.”

Read More: The Eternal Rivalry

Defending champion Nadal has prevailed eight times at the Foro Italico, but is searching for his first title in 2019. He recorded consecutive semi-final finishes during the European clay swing at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and Mutua Madrid Open, but broke the streak on Saturday by getting revenge on #NextGenATP greek Stefanos Tsitsipas, who defeated him last week in Madrid.

Nadal has been in brutal form from the first ball in Rome. He’s only been broken once this week, holding in 31 of 32 service games (97%) and leading the tournament in return games won (76%, 22 of 29). He is still unbeaten in Rome semi-finals (11-0) and picked up his 60th win at this event over Tsitsipas.

The Spaniard is competing in an astounding 50th Masters 1000 final (33-16) and has a clear history of success in Rome. But as always, Nadal has mentally wiped the slate clean and will be solely focused on the job at hand against Djokovic.

“The main thing is I am playing better,” said Nadal. “For me, tomorrow is an opportunity to play against a great player. It’s another test. I hope to be ready to compete well. It’s going to be a tough one.”

The doubles final will see sixth-seeded South African-Kiwi duo Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus face the third-seeded Colombian pair of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. Defending champions Cabal/Farah prevailed last month in Barcelona (d. Murray/Soares) and Klaasen/Venus seek their first ATP Tour doubles title this season.

ORDER OF PLAY - SUNDAY, MAY 19, 2019

CENTRALE start 1:00 pm
WTA match
Not Before 4:00 pm
ATP - [1] Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs [2] Rafael Nadal (ESP) 

PIETRANGELI start 2:00 pm
ATP - [3] Juan Sebastian Cabal (COL) / Rober Farah (COL) vs [6] Raven Klaasen (RSA) / Michael Venus (NZL) 

How American Troops Helped Build A Challenger Venue In Heilbronn

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 8:13am

Enter the grounds of the NECKARCUP in Heilbronn and your immediate impression is one of a modern facility, built especially for a world-class tennis tournament.

Turn to the left and you'll find a corridor of entertainment, featuring a stage for concerts and comedy shows, and nationally renowned dining, including Thomas Gödtel's Tenno Sushi Lounge. Then shift to the right and stroll past the two main show courts, weaving through the VIP centre and a sponsor village that features a 3D printing machine.

On Thursday, the NECKARCUP celebrated its second consecutive 'Tournament of the Year' honour on the ATP Challenger Tour, lifting the trophy in front of the home fans. The TC Heilbronn Trappensee was packed with the German faithful to witness the occasion, as tournament directors and founders Metehan and Mine Cebeci hoisted the award for all to see.

But despite its lush ambiance, this venue actually has quite a long and storied history. One of the longest on the Challenger circuit, in fact.

Turn back the clock more than a century and you will find this very stadium at the forefront of German tennis. Not only is the TC Heilbronn Trappensee the second-oldest tennis club in all of Germany, but it is also the third-oldest on the ATP Challenger Tour today.

Oldest Challenger Venues

Year Founded
Tournament Venue 1880 Ilkley, UK
Ilkley Lawn Tennis & Squash Club 1881 Surbiton, UK
Surbiton Racket & Fitness Club 1892 Heilbronn, GER
TC Heilbronn Trappensee 1897 Bordeaux, FRA
Villa Primrose
1898 Florence, ITA
Circolo del Tennis Firenze 1899
Perugia, ITA
Tennis Club Perugia 

Founded in 1892, it celebrates its 127th anniversary this year. Only the grass-court facilities in Ilkley (1880) and Surbiton (1881) have a longer legacy on the circuit, but Heilbronn boasts arguably the most colourful history.

The original site was constructed on the expanse of land adjacent to the current stadium, but during World War II, the city was the target of numerous bombings by the British and United States Air Forces. In April 1945, the U.S. military seized control of Heilbronn and the persistent air raids culminated in a nine-day battle. Located along the Neckar River, the city was an important battleground towards the end of the war.

The Cebecis say that troops from the United States army were stationed in the region immediately surrounding the city, which was nearly entirely destroyed by more than 1,000 allied bombs.
Following the war, the American forces helped the locals rebuild the tennis club, assisting in the construction of the current indoor facility that today houses three carpet courts. During the tournament, the building is transformed into a sprawling player lounge, dining area and event offices.

Today, the surrounding region is home to hundreds of vineyards. Heilbronn is known for its bustling wine industry, with more than 1,300 acres of land dedicated to the craft. Tucked in the southwest corner of Germany, less than an hour north of Stuttgart, the city's tranquility provides players with an ideal setting for a tournament.

And that's exactly why the Cebecis established the event. In just six years, it has become one of the premier stops on the ATP Challenger Tour, serving the players with all the amenities they need, from round-the-clock shuttle service to buffet lunches and dinners, a large warm-up and cool down area and six practise courts.

"This tournament is for the players," said Mine. "We know we provide a nice fan experience too, but our philosophy is 'players first'. If they are happy, we are successful."

The tournament has been fortunate to have a glittering list of champions, with four of the five winners going on to crack the Top 50 of the ATP Rankings. World No. 5 Alexander Zverev lifted the trophy in 2015, with Jan-Lennard Struff, Nikoloz Basilashvili and Filip Krajinovic also featuring in the winners' circle. Last year, 17-year-old Rudolf Molleker became the youngest Challenger titlist in 2018 with his maiden title in Heilbronn.

Moreover, the NECKARCUP is well advertised and promoted in the region, with live media coverage from multiple outlets spanning the entire week. From online publications to newspaper, TV and radio, the tournament is covered from top to bottom. And the public has taken notice, with nearly 6,000 people filling the stands throughout the week.

Metehan's father, Erdogan, was an iconic figure at the club for many years. He served as the chief tennis intructor since immigrating from Turkey and taught Metehan how to play as a child.

"My father was one of the first tennis teachers to come from Turkey to Germany. He moved in 1972 and helped grow the club. At first, there were only six courts, but it has grown to nine, with three also indoors. And when we first started, there were 200 club members and now we have 740. They are all here for tennis."

In 1988, Metehan moved from Turkey to Heilbronn at the age of 17. One year later, he and Mine met in the city and in 1990 they were married. Today, they live in Heilbronn and with their 21-year-old daughter helping with tournament operations and their 16-year-old son working as a ball boy, it truly is a family affair.

"You feel at home here," said Germany's Dominik Koepfer. "The player area is the best you will find on tour. There's plenty of food, enough bikes and a great place to cool down and warm up. You have your privacy too, which is important. They pick you up from the train station and airport too, which is 40 minutes away. You don't get that at all Challengers. Transport is every 30 minutes and the hotel is very good. There are enough practice courts too. It's just a great tournament, which really helps this time of year."

"It's always great to play at home and this is my fourth time here," added Oscar Otte. "Every year the tournament is improving and getting better. The whole organisation is great and the player area is a really high level for a Challenger. There's also a lot of spectators supporting the Germans. We all like to play here. For me, it's the best Challenger."

Novak & Rafa: The Rivalry

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 7:39am

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have met more than any other two players in the Open Era, a record 54 times. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 28-26 and has won nine of their past 12 contests. But Nadal defeated Djokovic in the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia final 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 to lift his ninth trophy in Rome, and stand alone with 34 ATP Masters 1000 titles.

ATPTour.com breaks down a history of the duo's 54 career matches:

2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia Final, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1

Nadal entered his 50th Masters 1000 final pursuing his first trophy of any kind in 2019. The Spaniard had not taken that long to win a title since 2004, the year he claimed his first tour-level victory.

But Nadal would not be denied against Djokovic, the top seed. Although the Serbian saved all four break points he faced in the second set to force a decider, Nadal earned 17 break points in the match, and that proved the difference. Nadal won a higher rate of his second-serve points (61%) than Djokovic did his first-serve points (60%), helping him earn a title for the 16th consecutive year.

Djokovic spent two hours and 12 minutes of more time on court than Nadal entering the final, and that showed in his slow start as well as in the third set. The Serbian used his drop shot well throughout the week, but lost many of those points against Nadal with the trophy on the line, and the Spaniard showed no hesitation from the baseline, especially with his forehand down the line.

2019 Australian Open Final, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 6-3, 6-2, 6-3

In an eagerly anticipated match-up, a repeat of their 2012 final in Melbourne Park, Djokovic started with a bang to win the first three games. Nadal, with his refined service motion and potent forehand, was unable to create an opening and through two sets Djokovic had lost just six of his service points and committed four unforced errors. Nadal continued to fight and created his lone break point at 2-3, 30/40 in the third set, but Djokovic was in irresistible form and put together one of the best performances of his career.

In capturing his 15th Grand Slam championship crown, the 73rd tour-level trophy of his career, the Serbian broke a tie with Pete Sampras (14). It was also a record-breaking seventh trophy at the Australian Open, moving passed Roy Emerson and Roger Federer. Read Match Report

2018 Wimbledon SF, grass, Djokovic d. Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(9), 3-6, 10-8

It was clear that Djokovic had climbed closer to his best form ahead of the pair's semi-final at The Championships, hanging tough against Nadal in Rome, reaching the Roland Garros quarter-finals and finishing runner-up at The Queen's Club. But could the Serbian overcome the greatest challenge of his comeback from a right elbow injury against World No. 1 Nadal, who was 35-2 on the season?

It turned out that the great rivals were evenly matched, with Djokovic saving five break points in a thrilling fifth set before triumphing after five hours and 15 minutes. And fittingly, they both hit 73 winners to just 42 unforced errors in the classic. 

Djokovic earned his first Grand Slam semi-final win against Nadal to reach his fifth Wimbledon final, claiming the signature victory of his comeback to advance to his first major championship match since the 2016 US Open. Nadal had won 16 consecutive matches in the last four at Slams, but he bowed out after making his deepest run at the All England Club since 2011, when he lost in the final.

2018 Internazionali BNL d'Italia SF, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 7-6(4), 63

Entering the pair's first meeting in more than a year, Nadal was the clear favourite. The top seed had won 50 consecutive sets on clay — a record for the most sets claimed in a row on a single surface — before falling in the Madrid quarter-finals the previous week. And it was tough to tell how high Djokovic, still recovering from a right elbow injury, would be able to raise his level. 

But the Serbian played excellent tennis, especially in the first set, comfortably finding the sharpest of angles from the backhand corner to give Nadal fits. But toward the end of the opening set, the Spaniard began to unleash his forehand down the line, therefore changing court positioning and taking control of baseline rallies, leading to his eventual victory. 

It was an important win for Nadal, earning his 356th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 match victory to break a tie with Roger Federer (355) for the most in history. The 31-year-old also moved within one triumph of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings after dropping to No. 2 with his loss in Madrid. The triumph not only showed Nadal's great form, but also that Djokovic, despite competing in just his first semi-final of 2018, is on his way back to his top level.

2017 Mutua Madrid Open SF, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 6-2, 6-4

During their historic 50th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, Nadal decidedly turned the tables on Djokovic, thoroughly outplaying the defending champion to reach his eighth Mutua Madrid Open final. Djokovic had owned their rivalry during recent years. The Serbian had won 15 consecutive sets and seven straight matches against Nadal.

It had been nearly three years since the “King of Clay” had prevailed against Djokovic – the 2014 Roland Garros final. But Nadal dominated from the start during their 50th meeting in Madrid, aggressively smashing forehands and confidently hitting backhand winners. Djokovic would make it a match in the second set but Nadal served out the final after one hour and 38 minutes.

The win further solidified Nadal's place in history as the greatest clay-court player and showed the tennis world that the Spaniard is back in top form. He improved to 14-0 in clay-court matches this season and will play for his third clay-court crown of the year, after winning a record 10th title at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters and Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell earlier this season.

2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia QF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 75 76(4)

In their closest contest for almost two years, Djokovic rallied from a break down in both sets to thwart an in-form and enthusiastic Nadal. The Serb extended his recent mastery over the Spaniard to move into the Rome semi-finals for the 10th consecutive year. Djokovic has now won the past seven matches and 15 sets against Nadal.

The World No. 1 leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 26-23. He also moved within two matches of winning his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.

2016 BNP Paribas Open SF, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 76(5) 62

Djokovic earned the opportunity to play for an unprecedented fifth BNP Paribas Open title after edging Nadal in the semi-finals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. In the pair’s 48th meeting – an Open Era record on the ATP World Tour – the Serb claimed his sixth straight win over Nadal and has won 13 consecutive sets against the Spaniard.

Djokovic would go on to win the BNP Paribas Open final and join Nadal with a record 27 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles. The World No. 1 has won seven of the past 10 Masters 1000 events. Despite the loss, however, Nadal said he gained confidence from playing Djokovic better than he has in their recent matches.

2016 Qatar ExxonMobil Open F, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 61 62

Djokovic made sure the lone blip in his jaw-dropping 2015 campaign - a Doha quarter-final defeat to Ivo Karlovic - was a distant memory. The World No. 1 captured his sixth consecutive ATP World Tour title and 60th overall at the tour-level. He became just the 10th player in the Open Era to reach the 60-title milestone, drawing level with Andre Agassi in a tie for ninth.

After streaking to a 6-1 first set after just 31 minutes, Djokovic continued to apply pressure on Nadal, suffocating the Spaniard from the baseline with a ruthless display of aggression. He converted his third break point in the opening game of the second set and secured another break to all but seal the match at 4-1. He would wrap up the match after 73 minutes, striking a total 30 winners to just 13 unforced errors.

The Serb leads the historic FedEx ATP Head2Head for the first time at 24-23. He has now claimed 11 consecutive sets since Nadal prevailed in the 2014 Roland Garros final.

2015 Barclays ATP World Tour Finals SF, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 63 63

Djokovic turned in a comprehensive performance in reaching a fourth consecutive final at The O2 in London, advancing to an 85th tour-level title match. 

Djokovic was on the attack immediately against Nadal's own serve, pouncing on a short second serve for a return winner in the very first point and breaking to love for a quick 2-0 lead. The Belgrade native struck 12 winners and just one unforced error through the first three games. He was in control at the baseline, dictating play on his own terms and most importantly refusing to yield an inch on his own serve.

Patterns persisted in the second set, with Djokovic using his agility to stand tall on the baseline and he would break for 3-2 after a 25-shot rally. The Serb launched a backhand winner down-the-line on the run to give him his first match point at 5-3 and he would capitalise with another backhand winner - this time going cross-court.

With his consecutive finals reached streak up to 15 tournaments, Djokovic became the first player to claim 30 match wins against Top 10 opponents in a single season.

2015 China Open F, hard, Djokovic d. Nadal 62 62

Djokovic extended his run of dominance in Beijing to 29-0 with a gritty victory over Nadal in the final. It was the Serb's seventh win over Nadal in their last eight meetings, a run that began at the 2013 China Open final. The World No. 1, who had already clinched the year-end top spot in the Emirates ATP Rankings, improved to a stunning 68-5 in 2015 and 23-4 against Top 10 opponents.

Djokovic would get off to a flying start in his quest for a sixth Beijing title, breaking immediately in the first game and again for 5-2 after turning aside a pair of break chances in the sixth game. Nadal would receive a visit from the trainer for an apparent leg ailment midway through the third game of the second set and Djokovic would pounce, breaking for 2-1. He did not look back, surging to the title after 91 minutes. The top seed struck 23 winners, including seven aces.

"This has definitely been my most successful tournament," said Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. "Beijing has been a lucky place for me. In 2008, I remember the Olympic Games when Rafa won gold and the tradition of Asian tennis started here. I played a great tournament overall and continued playing well today. Rafa and I have played 45 times and I hope that continues."

2015 Roland Garros QF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 75 63 61

On his seventh attempt, Djokovic finally dethroned nine-time champion Nadal on the red clay of Roland Garros, handing the Spaniard just his second loss in Paris and maintaining his hopes of completing the career Grand Slam.

In one of the most highly anticipated Grand Slam quarter-finals in history, Djokovic raced to a 4-love lead in the first set before sixth-seeded Nadal battled back to level the match. Despite the momentum shift, the Serb would find his footing to claim the first set in 67 minutes. 

Djokovic was dominant on his serve in the second set, claiming 16 of 18 straight service points, before eventually taking a two-set lead. He carried that momentum into the final set, limiting Nadal to just three total forehand winners and claiming victory in two hours and 26 minutes. 

2015 Monte-Carlo SF, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 63 63 

Djokovic reached his fourth Monte-Carlo by denying Rafael Nadal once again at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. Their 43rd meeting with a tale of the seventh game. Djokovic is now riding a 16-match winning streak and is on course to capture four straight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles.

Nadal took a 2-0 lead at the start of the match, as Djokovic – the form player of 2015 – was tested, but regrouped to win three straight games. In an 11-minute seventh game, which saw Djokovic save one break, his greater weight of shots eventually over-stretched Nadal. Djokovic broke for a 5-3 lead, but Nadal battled throughout the 43-minute opener.

Djokovic playing on, or inside, the baseline, withstood a stern examination of his backhand, to create two break point chances in the opening game but he could not make a breakthrough. Nadal led 40/0 it 3-3, but was left to rue two forehand errors and a double fault as Djokovic went on to claim the 19-point game. Djokovic earned his 29th match win of the season with a backhand winner into space.

2014 Roland Garros, clay, Nadal d. Djokovic 36 75 62 64

Nadal prevented Djokovic from completing a career Grand Slam, as he retained his No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking and became the first player in history to win nine titles at a major. He also drew level with Pete Sampras at No. 2 in the Grand Slam title-leaders list on 14 major crowns.

The Spaniard had lost eight of his past nine sets against Djokovic entering the Roland Garros final, and once again fell behind to start the match as Djokovic broke in the eighth game and survived a pair of break points. Though the winner of the first set had gone on to triumph nine times in their 11 previous Grand Slam meetings, a free-swinging Nadal drew level at a set apiece with a break and quickly raced out to a 3-0 lead in the third. The Serbian found renewed energy in the fourth set, recovering a break in the seventh game, but was unable to hold serve to stay in the match as he double-faulted on championship point.

2014 Internazionali BNL d'Italia Final, Rome, clay, Djokovic d. Nadal 46 63 63

Djokovic pulled closer to Nadal in the battle for No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings by claiming his third Rome title and 19th at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was the Serb's second triumph over his rival in a Rome final, having prevailed in the 2011 title match.

Nadal entered their 41st encounter having spent over 10 hours on court through the semi-finals, but the seven-time champion showed no signs of fatigue in the early stages. He would surge to a double-break lead in the first set behind a ferocious offensive onslaught, and held on to take the opener in 46 minutes. In their previous 10 meetings, the player who had won the first set went on to win the match. Djokovic was ready to buck the trend, finding his range and rhythm in the second and third sets and turning the tables with a tenacious attacking display. He would hold Nadal to winning under 28 per cent of second serve points won for the rest of the match, firing return winners with ease and standing tall on the baseline. Djokovic's 46 winners (including 15 from the backhand side) and six aces were too much for Nadal to overcome.

Read Matches 1-10 
Read Matches 11 to 20
Read Matches 21 to 30
Read Matches 31 to 40

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Djokovic Beats Schwartzman, Sets Up 54th Nadal Meeting

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 6:41am

There will be a new ATP Masters 1000 title leader on Sunday. Top seed Novak Djokovic escaped past Argentina's Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 on Saturday evening to reach his ninth Rome final and 49th title match at the Masters 1000 level.

The four-time Rome champion set up a final between the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world at the season's final clay-court Masters 1000 event: Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, both with 33 Masters 1000 titles, meeting for the 54th time.

The Serbian leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 28-25, having won nine of their past 11 matches. Nadal, however, has won 16 of their 23 clay-court matchups and four of seven in Rome. The Spaniard avenged his Mutua Madrid Open semi-final loss to Greece's #NextGenATP star Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 6-4 earlier Saturday to reach his first tour-level final since the Australian Open in January.

“He keeps on showing to the world why he's one of the biggest legends of tennis history," Djokovic said of Nadal. "I have the greatest respect for him. He's my greatest rival of all time, for sure... Every time we get to play each other, it's a thrill. It's the ultimate challenge.”

Djokovic, last week's Madrid champion, and Schwartzman hadn't played since 2017 Roland Garros, when the 5'7” Argentine led the Serbian two sets to one before losing in five. And the first-time Masters 1000 semi-finalist pushed Djokovic again in Rome.

The Argentine rallied well from the baseline, stepping into the court to cut off angles on the forehand side and follow those shots into the net. Both players turned to the mid-rally drop shot to keep their opponent off balance, but Schwartzman often got the better of Djokovic during those exchanges.

“He came out with the right game plan. He was hitting the ball clean. He was hitting it fast. He was mixing up the pace... It was really hard to read the play,” Djokovic said.

Schwartzman, however, struggled to hold serve against Djokovic's strong return game. Djokovic especially pounced on Schwartzman's second serve, pinning the Argentine behind the baseline to start the point. The Serbian broke in the eighth game of the opener after Schwartzman struggled to land his first serve, including on break point.

Schwartzman had broken 50 per cent (18/36) of the time heading into the semi-final, and with the crowd wanting more tennis, he started a string of four consecutive breaks — two by each man — in the second set, including at 5-3 when Schwartzman tried to serve it out. But he eventually ran away with the tie-break.

"I started to think, 'OK, maybe I have the chance because he's going to be tired," Schwartzman said, referring to Djokovic's early Saturday morning finish against Juan Martin del Potro. "But the third set was a really tough one, and I think in the important moments he played better than me, more solid, more to the lines, more aggressive."

In the third, the Serbian pulled off one of the shots of the night – a sliding short-angle forehand winner – to set up a break point in the fifth game. "That was the turning point. That's where I made a break. That was enough,” he said.

Watch Hot Shot: Djokovic Turns Around Third Set Against Schwartzman

Did You Know?
Schwartzman was 0-15 against Top 6 players before he beat Kei Nishikori on Friday to make the Rome semi-finals.

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The Eternal Rivalry: Nadal & Djokovic In Rome

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 6:41am

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have competed against one another at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia more than any other event in their epic FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry. In their eighth meeting at the Foro Italico, Nadal took a 5-3 lead in their Rome rivalry with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-1 championship match victory.

ATPTour.com takes a closer look at Nadal and Djokovic's eight meetings in Rome:

2019 Final: Nadal d. Djokovic 6-0, 4-6, 6-1
Nadal entered his 50th Masters 1000 final pursuing his first trophy of any kind in 2019. The Spaniard had not taken that long to win a title since 2004, the year he claimed his first tour-level victory.

But Nadal would not be denied against Djokovic, the top seed. Although the Serbian saved all four break points he faced in the second set to force a decider, Nadal earned 17 break points in the match, and that proved the difference. Nadal won a higher rate of his second-serve points (61%) than Djokovic did his first-serve points (60%), helping him earn a title for the 16th consecutive year.

Djokovic spent two hours and 12 minutes of more time on court than Nadal entering the final, and that showed in his slow start as well as in the third set. The Serbian used his drop shot well throughout the week, but lost many of those points against Nadal with the trophy on the line, and the Spaniard showed no hesitation from the baseline, especially with his forehand down the line.

2018 Semi-final: Nadal d. Djokovic 7-6(4), 63
Entering the pair's first meeting in more than a year, Nadal was the clear favourite. The top seed had won 50 consecutive sets on clay — a record for the most sets claimed in a row on a single surface — before falling in the Madrid quarter-finals the previous week. And it was tough to tell how high Djokovic, still recovering from a right elbow injury, would be able to raise his level.

But the Serbian played excellent tennis, especially in the first set, comfortably finding the sharpest of angles from the backhand corner to give Nadal fits. But toward the end of the opening set, the Spaniard began to unleash his forehand down the line, therefore changing court positioning and taking control of baseline rallies, leading to his eventual victory.

It was an important win for Nadal, earning his 356th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 match victory to break a tie with Roger Federer (355) for the most in history. The 31-year-old also moved within one triumph of reclaiming the No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings after dropping to No. 2 with his loss in Madrid. The triumph not only showed Nadal's great form, but also that Djokovic, despite competing in just his first semi-final of 2018, is on his way back to his top level.

2016 Quarter-final: Djokovic d. Nadal 75 76(4)
In their closest contest for almost two years, Djokovic rallied from a break down in both sets to thwart an in-form and enthusiastic Nadal. The Serb extended his recent mastery over the Spaniard to move into the Rome semi-finals for the 10th consecutive year. Djokovic has now won the past seven matches and 15 sets against Nadal.

The World No. 1 leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 26-23. He also moved within two matches of winning his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title.

2014 Final: Djokovic d. Nadal 46 63 63
Djokovic pulled closer to Nadal in the battle for No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings by claiming his third Rome title and 19th at the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 level. It was the Serb's second triumph over his rival in a Rome final, having prevailed in the 2011 title match.

Nadal entered their 41st encounter having spent over 10 hours on court through the semi-finals, but the seven-time champion showed no signs of fatigue in the early stages. He would surge to a double-break lead in the first set behind a ferocious offensive onslaught, and held on to take the opener in 46 minutes. In their previous 10 meetings, the player who had won the first set went on to win the match. Djokovic was ready to buck the trend, finding his range and rhythm in the second and third sets and turning the tables with a tenacious attacking display.

He would hold Nadal to winning under 28 per cent of second serve points won for the rest of the match, firing return winners with ease and standing tall on the baseline. Djokovic's 46 winners (including 15 from the backhand side) and six aces were too much for Nadal to overcome.

2012 Final: Nadal d. Djokovic 75 63
The pair contested the final at the Foro Italico for the third time, with Nadal coming out on top to avenge the defeat he had suffered at Djokovic’s hands a year earlier. With the final rained off on Sunday, it was below brighter skies on Monday that the pair took to court. Djokovic was under immediate pressure from Nadal. The Serb, who had beaten Roger Federer in the semi-finals, saved two break points in his opening service game before Nadal converted his fourth opportunity to lead 3-2.

Djokovic immediately recovered the service break, but was broken by Nadal again in the 11th game, after a scintillating exchange at the net, and the Spaniard sealed the opener. Nadal was quick to capitalise on his momentum, taking advantage of an increased unforced error count by Djokovic and dominating from the baseline as he broke in the first game of the second set. Djokovic squandered four break back points in the following game, and another in the fourth game, before surrendering the match in the ninth game after two hours and 20 minutes with his fourth double fault.

2011 Final: Djokovic d. Nadal 64 64
One day after a thrilling semi-final win over Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic defeated defending champion Rafael Nadal for a second consecutive Sunday in a clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final. The Serbian broke the World No. 1 four times - including the final games of the first and second sets - to become just the second player (Davydenko) to record four straight victories against the Spaniard.

He also became the first player to win four Masters 1000 titles in one season since Nadal and Roger Federer claimed four apiece in 2005. On Saturday evening, Djokovic had come within two points of defeat before rallying to defeat Murray in a third-set tie-break. His streak of 39 successive tour-level victories following the Rome final was the sixth-longest winning streak in the Open Era.

2009 Final: Nadal d. Djokovic 76(2) 62
Two weeks on from their keenly contested match in the final of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, Nadal and Djokovic met in an ATP World Tour final for the fourth time at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. Nadal served for the first set twice, but each time was thwarted by a Djokovic determined to defend his title at the Foro Italico.

The Spaniard raised his level in the first-set tie-break though before breaking twice in the second set to secure his 30th consecutive clay-court victory and a record fourth Internazionali BNL d'Italia title after two hours and three minutes of play. Nadal’s victory had added significance for Djokovic, who will surrender his No. 3 South African Airways 2009 ATP Ranking to current No. 4 Andy Murray when the 2008 Rome points drop on 11 May. 

2007 Quarter-final: Nadal d. Djokovic 62 63
Back on his beloved clay, two-time defending champion Rafael Nadal produced a devastating display to beat Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-3 in one hour and 41 minutes. "I'm playing at my best level for sure," Nadal said after extending his Open Era record winning streak to 77 matches. "It was a very nice match. We were playing at 100 percent every point. Djokovic is very, very good player. He didn't play a bad match today. He served very well on the break points - unbelievable. Every time he beat me with the serve. But finally I played consistently, and that's decisive."

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Venus & Klaasen: From Uncertain Expectations To The Rome Final

Sun, 19/05/2019 - 4:55am

Entering the week, Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus hadn’t played together since Miami, as Venus missed time due to an ankle injury. But that hasn’t stopped them from reaching their second ATP Masters 1000 final as a team.

Sixth seeds Klaasen and Venus battled past fifth seeds Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic 7-6(4), 4-6, 10-7 on Saturday to reach the championship match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

“First week back for me, so expectations this week, we were a little unsure how things were going to go,” Venus said. “But it’s been great being back on court with Raven and we’ve just been enjoying each match as it comes and we’re really excited to be in the final.”

It was a good change of fortune for the South African-Kiwi duo, which lost to Marach and Pavic in this year's BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals, a clash that also came down to a Match Tie-break.

“Once you get to this stage of a tournament, you figure both teams are playing well, and the last time we played we also met them deep in a tournament,” Klaasen said. “You keep fighting and when I lost my serve in the second set I was like, ‘Man, now this match is turning into something messy.’ But we stayed together as a team and we got the win today. It was nice.”

Klaasen and Venus, who qualified for the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals as a pair, have both won big titles before, with Klaasen owning two Masters 1000 titles (with Marcelo Melo and Rajeev Ram, respectively) and Venus triumphing at Roland Garros in 2017. But they will try to win their first Masters 1000 trophy together against top seeds Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo or defending champions Juan Sebastian Cabal/Marcelo Melo.

“The funny thing about playing tennis is you always raise the bar and I think that would be sort of us reaching another team goal, doing something we haven’t done yet,” Klaasen said. “We’ll go out there tomorrow with a big desire to put on a good performance and leave it all out on court. It’s one of our goals and we look forward to tomorrow.”

Awaiting them in the final are defending champions and third seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, who defeated top seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo of Brazil 2-6, 7-6(4), 10-8. The Colombian pair are seeking their second ATP Tour doubles title of the season after prevailing last month at the Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell (d. Murray/Soares).

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