Rafael Nadal likens his body to ‘an old machine’ at Italian Open

Getty Images
5 Comments

ROME — At 35 and after nearly two decades at or near the top of tennis, Rafael Nadal likens his body to “an old machine.”

A machine that was idle for more than a month recently when the 21-time Grand Slam champion was recovering from a rib stress fracture.

After he was injured during a semifinal win over Carlos Alcaraz at Indian Wells in March, Nadal returned to action at the Madrid Open last week, when he was beaten by the 19-year-old Spaniard in the quarterfinals.

Nadal won his opening 20 matches of the year, which included the Australian Open title, but he said at the Italian Open on Monday that his stretch of good form means nothing now.

“My body is like an old machine. To put this machine on again it takes some time,” Nadal said. “It’s not the same when you (are) 19 than when you have almost 36, with all the issues that I went through in my tennis career.

“You need to build again the confidence on your body, on your movements, then you going to start feeling again comfortable with your tennis. It’s more about being confident with my movements, recover the speed, recover the way that I have to play on clay.”

Nadal, who turns 36 on June 3, is playing his final warmup in Rome this week before attempting to add to his record total of 13 French Open titles.

The tournament at Roland Garros starts in less than two weeks.

“I need some time, but maybe this week can be a positive week, maybe not. Who knows?” Nadal said. “The only thing that is sure, I’m going to keep trying and I’m going to keep building confidence to try to be ready for next week, for in two weeks. That’s my goal unfortunately this year, because I didn’t have another chance to approach this clay-court season with all the things that I went through.”

Nadal, who has won the Italian Open a record 10 times, will open at the Foro Italico against either big-serving American John Isner or Argentine qualifier Francisco Cerundolo, who reached the semifinals of the Miami Open.

SWIATEK’S STREAK

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek is back on tour looking to extend her 23-match winning streak and defend her Rome title.

Swiatek sat out last week’s Madrid Open because of a sore arm after winning four consecutive titles.

She said she spent “five or six days” without picking up her racket.

“It’s pretty good to have (an) opportunity to do something like that in between tournaments, in the middle of the season,” Swiatek said. “I’m more fresh. Mentally and physically, I had time to rest.”

Swiatek then trained for five days at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Mallorca, Spain, which gave her an opportunity to visit the Nadal museum.

“It was inspiring,” Swiatek said. “Seeing numbers on Wikipedia is one thing, but seeing all the trophies, how consistent he was sometimes in some tournaments, it’s amazing.”

Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, routed Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 6-0 in last year’s Rome final. She’ll open against either one of two Americans: Shelby Rogers or Alison Riske.

DJOKOVIC’S SECOND HOME

Five-time Italian Open champion Novak Djokovic calls Rome his “second home.”

“In terms of support that I’ve been getting, in terms of the sensation I have every time I come back here. I think speaking a little bit of Italian helps connect with people,” the top-ranked Serb said. “Italian mentality is close to Serbian mentality in terms of passion, emotions. So it’s always a joy for me to come back.”

Djokovic, who lost to Nadal in last year’s Rome final, said his game is coming back after missing a large portion of the season because of his refusal to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Djokovic lost to Alcaraz in a third-set tiebreaker in the Madrid semifinals on Saturday.

“It’s closer to desired level every week,” Djokovic said. “Even after (an) almost 3 1/2-hour battle against Alcaraz, I recovered well the next day, was ready to go. That’s a positive and encouraging factor prior to Rome and also, of course, the big goal, which is Paris.”

JABEUR MANIA

Ons Jabeur’s Madrid Open title is still reverberating around the Middle East.

“The Michael Jackson of the Arab world kind of texted me,” Jabeur said, referring to Lebanese singer Ragheb Alama. “It’s a great honor for me.”

The seventh-ranked Tunisian, the first Arab female or male to make the top 10, also received a congratulatory message from Tunisian-Italian rapper Ghali.

“I love his work, his songs,” Jabeur said. “He was really proud. It’s amazing. I hope to see him here in Italy.”

Jabeur faces Sorana Cirstea in the first round.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
Getty Images
1 Comment

MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.