Rafael Nadal wins record 10th French Open in final vs. Stan Wawrinka

Leave a comment

PARIS — His clay-court prowess as unassailable as ever, Rafael Nadal won his record 10th French Open title by dominating 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 in the final Sunday.

No other man or woman has won 10 championships at the same major in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Call it a Perfect 10.

The 31-year-old Nadal was overwhelmingly good from start to finish against Wawrinka — and over the past two weeks en route to La Decima, Spanish for “10th.” Not only did Nadal win every set he played in the tournament, he dropped a total of only 35 games, the second fewest by any man on the way to any title at a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era with all matches being best-of-five-sets.

Along with improving to 10-0 in finals at Roland Garros, Nadal increased his career haul to 15 Grand Slam trophies, breaking a tie with Pete Sampras for second place in the history of men’s tennis, behind only rival Roger Federer’s 18.

It marked a stirring return to the top for Nadal at his preferred event and on his preferred surface: Over his career, he is 79-2 at the French Open and 102-2 in all best-of-five-set matches on clay.

“I play my best at all events, but the feeling here is impossible to describe. It’s impossible to compare it to another place,” Nadal said. “The nerves, the adrenaline, I feel on the court are impossible to compare to another feeling. This is the most important event in my career.”

A year ago in Paris, Nadal surprisingly withdrew before the third round because of a wrist injury, making the announcement at a news conference while wearing a blue brace on his left arm and a look of resignation of his face. He couldn’t bring himself to watch much of the rest of the 2016 French Open, he said, other than some doubles matches involving a good pal, and the singles final.

Finally back to full strength in the offseason, Nadal returned to work, reconstructing his forehand and redoubling his efforts to get back to his best.

Well, he sure proved to be precisely that Sunday, when the conditions were exactly to the liking of a guy who grew up on the island of Mallorca. The sun was shining, there was barely a trace of cloud in the bright blue sky and the temperature was about 85 degrees (30 Celsius).

 

Wawrinka is no slouch; he owns three major titles, including one from Roland Garros, and had never lost a Grand Slam final. But a five-set semifinal win Friday over No. 1-ranked Andy Murray must have taken something out of the 32-year-old from Switzerland, the oldest French Open finalist since 1973. His shots didn’t have their usual verve, his legs their usual spring.

After one point Sunday, Wawrinka bent over, leaning one arm on his racket and resting the other on a knee. When he netted a forehand to close a 14-stroke back-and-forth in the second set, he pounded his strings on his head several times. Later, he spiked his racket, then mangled it by breaking it over his knee, drawing a warning from the chair umpire.

Nadal has that way of wearing down opponents, physically and mentally. On this day, he was terrific. He won all 12 service games, made a mere 12 unforced errors, and won 94 total points to Wawrinka’s 57.

When it ended, Nadal dropped to his back on the clay, then rose and briefly pulled his blue shirt over his face. He was again the champion, again unbeatable at the French Open. Nadal is no longer the 19-year-old he was when he won his first French Open title in his tournament debut in 2005, wearing long white pirate shorts, his flowing locks wrapped by a white headband, his sleeveless shirt revealing bulging biceps. The shorts are shorter, the hair more closely cropped, the shirt has sleeves. But his game? Somehow, better.

Nadal also won Roland Garros in 2006, 2007 and 2008, then after a fourth-round loss on bad knees in 2009, he grabbed a record five in a row from 2010-14. A quarterfinal loss in 2015 ended that run, then came last year’s injury.

His return to a final in Paris was a meeting of two of the most respected shots in the men’s game: Nadal’s spin-heavy, high-bouncing uppercut of a forehand vs. Wawrinka’s one-handed, power-packed backhand, delivered with such force that the thud of racket-meets-ball sounds like a leather-bound encyclopedia volume — remember those? — being dropped on a wood desk.

So Nadal stayed away from that side early, going instead after Wawrinka’s forehand. It worked: Of the first seven points won by Nadal, six ended with missed forehands by Wawrinka.

One area of significant improvement for Nadal over the years is his serve. Once passable, it is now potent. So when confronted with the first break point for either man, 10 minutes in, he solved the predicament this way: service winner at 107 mph (173 kph), ace at 117 mph (189 kph), service winner at 120 mph (194 kph). Wawrinka would never see another break chance.

When the ball was in play, Nadal barely missed at all. His groundstrokes were delivered with loud, long grunts, echoing in the otherwise mostly silent Court Philippe Chatrier, filled with 15,000 or so souls too rapt to speak. They let out a burst of claps and roars in the second set on one particularly exquisite display: Wawrinka smacked a cross-court backhand to a corner, and Nadal sprinted to his left to get to the ball, wide of the doubles alley, and whip a forehand that curved around the net post and landed near a line for a winner.

Even Wawrinka applauded that one.

“Nothing to say about today,” Wawrinka told Nadal during the trophy ceremony. “You were too good.”

 

Anderson beats Querrey to win New York Open title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) Kevin Anderson had already dealt with the disappointment of falling short in a final in New York.

His surprising run to the U.S. Open final last summer jump-started his climb back into the top 10, but his loss to Rafael Nadal was a painful reminder that he kept coming up short at the finish line.

Back in New York this week, he finally got the ending he wanted.

The top seed won the first New York Open on Sunday, beating No. 2 seed Sam Querrey 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1) for his fourth career ATP Tour title.

Anderson came into Sunday 3-11 in ATP Finals, with one loss already this year.

“I have been runner-up quite a few times in my career,” Anderson said. “One of the big goals I had for this year was to try to be a bit more successful in that final stage. I fell a little short earlier this year in India and it feels great to come through and get today’s win. So, gives me a lot of confidence for the year.”

The South African dominated the tiebreaker after a tight third set, winning the first six points and leading Querrey to slam his racket to the court in frustration.

Anderson will move to career-high ninth in the ATP rankings Monday, continuing a strong rise that began in nearby Flushing Meadows when he reached his lone Grand Slam final as the world’s No. 32 player, the lowest-ranked U.S. Open finalist since the inception of the rankings in 1973.

He won his first title since 2015, when he made his only other appearance in the top 10 when he was ranked 10th for one week in October. Anderson won four consecutive three-set matches in the tournament’s first year at Nassau Coliseum after moving from Memphis, Tennessee.

“Obviously, during U.S. Open was a terrific few weeks for me. It was tough to lose in the finals so it feels very special to get today’s win,” Anderson said.

Querrey remained at 10 ATP titles, snapping a three-match winning streak in finals. He would have risen to a career-best No. 11 with a victory.

Querrey had held serve in 37 of 38 games entering this week before Anderson broke him in the second game of the final for a 2-0 lead. Querrey broke right back and broke Anderson again later in the set to move ahead.

The second set started the same way. Anderson broke again in the second game, but this time held in the third to seize control of the set en route to a 5-0 lead.

“I just kind of lost a little bit of momentum,” Querrey said. “He picked his game up, he started making a few more first serves. Feel like he was hitting the ball a little bigger, making a few more. Then I kind of got some momentum back at the end of the second there but it was kind of too little, too late.”

In the doubles final, the second-seeded team of Max Mirnyi of Belarus and Philipp Oswald of Austria edged Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Artem Sitak of New Zealand 4-6, 6-4, 10-6 in a match tiebreaker. For the 40-year-old Mirnyi, it was his 100th career ATP Tour final, with 96 having come in doubles.

Federer overpowers Dimitrov to win 97th career title

AP Photo
Leave a comment

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) Roger Federer came to the ABN AMRO World Tournament aiming to secure a return to the top of the world rankings. He achieved that goal Friday. On Sunday, he put an exclamation point on a remarkable week by winning the tournament for good measure.

Federer overpowered an ailing Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour to win his 97th career title.

“What a week it’s been. Absolutely amazing,” Federer said. “The goal was to make the semis and I won the tournament so of course I’m incredibly excited and so, so happy.”

The 36-year-old Swiss extended his domination over the player once dubbed “Baby Fed” for the similarities in their playing style, registering his seventh victory in as many meetings.

Federer’s third title at the Rotterdam tournament comes a day before he officially returns to the top of the rankings, more than five years after he was last world No. 1.

He will become the oldest person to hold the No. 1 position when the rankings are updated on Monday. It’s been more than five years since Federer was last No. 1, and 14 years since he first reached the top spot.

Federer, who has 20 Grand Slams to his name, said his next target is 100 career titles. He moved a step closer Sunday.

Federer said ahead of the final that the more aggressive player would win and Dimitrov started the strongest, winning his first game to love as he slammed powerful forehands and backhands past Federer.

But the Swiss great quickly started matching Dimitrov’s groundstrokes and converted his first break point in the fifth game. Federer broke Dimitrov again to go up 5-2 and then served out the set.

Federer kept the pressure on Dimitrov in the second set, breaking the Bulgarian in the first game and continuing to dominate on his way to victory in just 55 minutes.

Federer won a massive 82 percent of points on his service compared to 55 percent for Dimitrov.

After his strong start, the Bulgarian appeared to be struggling physically, but said afterward that he simply wasn’t good enough.

“Against Roger in the current situation he is in you can’t play any less than 100 percent,” Dimitrov said.