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Home   News   Tebbutt: Rafa without Roger

Tebbutt: Rafa without Roger

Apr 17, 2018
written by: Tom Tebbutt
written by: Tom Tebbutt

There’s an unusual statistical situation atop the ATP rankings – No. 1 Rafael Nadal is exactly 100 points (8,770 to 8,670) ahead of No. 2 Roger Federer.

Nadal, the reigning and 10-time Monte Carlo champion, is defending 1,000 points at this week’s Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and must win the title to remain in the top spot. Anything less and Federer returns to No. 1 next Monday.

It’s widely known that Federer is skipping the European clay-court season for the second year in a row, and that means he and Nadal will have only played together in one tournament – the Australian Open – in the first six months of 2018.

Because Nadal (at top here at the Aussie Open) missed Indian Wells and Miami with a right hip issue and Federer isn’t playing on clay, as well as each of them playing different grass-court warm-ups in June, they will not be in the same tournament again until Wimbledon starts on July 2.

It may be a good thing that tennis aficionados are getting gently weaned off these two all-time greats because the time will come soon enough when both have to exit the stage they have shared so grandly since Roland Garros nearly 13 years ago.

Between them (308 RF and 170 RN) they have spent 478 weeks at No. 1 in the ATP Rankings, which works out to more than nine years in total.

It has been quite amazing, with the virtual disappearance of two former world No. 1 players – Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray – over the past 15 months, that Federer and Nadal have stepped into the breach and monopolized the top two spots in the rankings and won every Grand Slam singles title over that period.

Nadal

Photo credit: @RafaelNadal

This week in Monte Carlo Nadal is obviously the star attraction as can be seen by the crowds watching him practice on Sunday.

It’s hard to believe his dominance on clay since he won his first event on that surface in August, 2004, in Sopot, Poland, defeating Jose Acasuso of Argentina in the final. He has won 53 of his overall total of 75 titles on clay and has a winning record of close to 92 per cent on the dirt – compared to 77 per cent on both hard courts and grass.

Maybe most remarkable is that his clay-court season really only lasts six weeks – single weeks in Monte Carlo and Barcelona (back-to-back) and a week off, Madrid and Rome (back-to back) and a week off and then the two weeks of the French Open. A year ago in Monte Carlo he became the first player in the open era (since 1968) to win a tournament 10 times and then went on to duplicate that feat at both Barcelona and Roland Garros.

The clay-court season for him is essentially just six weeks while there are more than 25 other weeks on the yearly schedule with hard-court tournaments. Given that it’s highly unlikely he’ll play hard-court events such as Montpelier in February, Washington in July, Winston Salem in August, Metz in September and others, there may actually be about 18 weeks – three times as many as his six on clay – when he could reasonably have an opportunity to compete on hard courts over a period extending from January to November.

This week, with Federer out, Murray out, Wawrinka out, del Potro out and Djokovic, still probably not quite his old self despite an impressive 6-0, 6-1 win over compatriot Dusan Lajovic on Monday, Nadal is ‘The Man’ in Monte Carlo. He plays his first match on Wednesday against No. 58-ranked Aljaz Bedene of Slovenia and could possibly face the ninth-seeded Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals

The men’s game is still waiting for a younger generation of players such as Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Grigor Dimitrov to take the reins of the sport – or an even a younger group including Alexander “Sascha” Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Nick Kyrgios to step up. Who knows if it could eventually fall to Denis Shapovalov, who turned 19 on Sunday and already ranks No. 45, to become the next dominant player.

But for right now, the floor (actually the terre battue) is yours, Señor Nadal – let’s see if you can continue to be nearly unbeatable on European red clay.

THE UKRAINIANS AND FED CUP

Andreescu

Photo credit: Kyle Clapham/Tennis Canada

It appears Canada dodged a bullet with the naming of the Ukraine team for the Fed World Group II Playoff being held this weekend at Stade IGA (Jarry Park) in Montreal.

The main reason is that world No. 4 Elina Svitolina will not be in Montreal, with the visitors instead being led by their No. 2 player – No. 41-ranked Lesia Tsurenko.

It might have been fun to see Svitolina play Genie Bouchard because that was the Wimbledon Girls event final in 2012, with Bouchard coming out the 6-2, 6-2 winner on that occasion.

The only other singles player named by the Ukrainians is veteran Kateryna Bondarenko. She’s 31 and ranked No. 78. A seasoned and solid competitor, she has some interesting numbers on her Fed Cup record – 18 ties played, 10-9 in singles and an immaculate 12-0 in doubles. If the best-of-five tie came down to a fifth and deciding doubles match, Bondarenko could play with the third member of the team – 30-year-old Olga Savchuk who ranks No. 867 in singles but is basically a doubles player with a ranking of No. 50.

Bouchard is the only Canadian player with a head-to-head history with the Ukrainian players – she’s 1-0 vs. Bondarenko and 1-1 vs. Tsurenko – the latter loss being a strange roller-coaster affair at Indian Wells in 2015 when Bouchard was treated for an abdominal strain but still had chances to win both the second and third sets before losing 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4.

(Gabriela Dabrowski, not a candidate for singles, is 0-1 against both Tsurenko and Bondarenko in singles qualifying at WTA events.)

Fed Cup begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday with two singles and at noon on Sunday, which could be two singles and a doubles.

Captain Sylvain Bruneau’s team is made up of No. 117-ranked Bouchard, No. 127 Francoise Abanda, No. 197 Bianca Andreescu and Dabrowski, No. 10 in doubles.

A notable player missing from the Ukraine team is 15-year-old sensation Marta Kostyuk, already ranked No. 156. She defeated current No. 24 Daria Gavrilova during a 3-1 first-round Fed Cup loss to Australia in Canberra in February but is not on the team for this round.

THE BOYS IN THE PRINCIPALITY

Photo credit: @karenkhachanov

Milos Raonic was the only Canadian to make it out of the first round of the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters – he defeated local Monaco wild card Lucas Catarina 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 on Monday. The 14th seed and current world No. 22 was not sharp out of the gate and the No. 365-ranked Catarina capitalized on his only break point to take the first set. After that it was all Raonic and the only area of real concern was a blister at the base of his middle figure which required two visits from the ATP trainer. On Tuesday, Raonic (pictured above last week with partner Karen Khachanov) withdrew from a scheduled doubles match because of an eye infection.

In the second round on Wednesday, he will face qualifier Marco Cecchinato of Italy, a 6-3, 6-2 winner over No. 31-ranked Damir Dzumhur on Tuesday. In 2016, Raonic defeated the No. 100-ranked Cecchinato in both Monte Carlo – 6-3, 7-5 – and Rome – 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Denis Shapovalov, newly-turned 19, lost his opening match on Monday 6-3, 6-4 to qualifier Stefanos Tsitsipas, and rarely played close to his best. The No. 71-ranked Tsitsipas, also 19, is the more experienced player on clay and his consistency was a big factor in the match along with Shapovalov making only 42 per cent of his first serves and having a winners-to-unforced errors ratio of 14/31.

It was Tsitsipas’ first tour level win on clay and next week Shapovalov will try to do the same at the ATP 250 event in Budapest.

On Sunday, Felix Auger-Aliassime played his second Masters 1000 main draw after qualifying in Indian Wells last month and then beating Vasek Pospisil before losing to Raonic. This time he entered via wild card and started tentatively but improved as the match progressed before dipping in the third set to lose 6-2, 6-7(4), 6-1 to Mischa Zverev. At still 17, Auger-Aliassime looked like he belonged against the No. 55-ranked German and also appeared comfortable playing on a big stage like the famous Court Rainier III.

ANDUJAR: A FEEL-GOOD WINNER

Pablo Andujar of Spain has to be the tennis poster boy for perseverance. The 32-year-old under went right elbow surgeries in March, 2016, November, 2016, and April, 2017.

He had ranked as high as No. 32 in July, 2015 and had won titles in Gstaad (Switzerland) in 2014 and Casablanca (Morocco) in 2011 and 2012.

But the ongoing miseries with his elbow resulted his ranking going to zero on September 25, 2017 and then tied for No. 1764 on November 16, 2017. It dipped even further – to tied for No. 1821 on February 19 of this year.

He started 2018 going 1-5 before winning the $53K Challenger event in Alicante, Spain, two weeks ago and then, on Sunday, triumphed again at the ATP 250 Grand Prix Hassan II in Morocco – this time in Marrakech. He defeated No. 26-ranked Kyle Edmund 6-2, 6-2 in the final.

Andujar

One of the more popular guys on tour – above playing doubles with Vasek Pospisil at Indian Wells in 2014 – Andujar has now moved up to No. 154.

Having won 10 matches in a row over two weeks, he was quoted on ATPWorldTour.com about his remarkable run the past two weeks. “I always believed that I could come back, otherwise I wouldn’t have tried,” he said.

COOL PICTURE

US Open

Photo credit: @NickMcCarvel

This aerial shot shows the US Open’s new Louis Armstrong Stadium (with its retractable roof) in the foreground.

LOOK–ALIKES

Tebbutt Tuesday is not a big fan of ‘separated at birth’ items – but these two, Stefanos Tsitsipas (left) and Pablo Andujar (right) are exceptions. That’s especially goes for Andujar, 32, resembling the younger Tsitsipas, 19.

NOTE: There will be blogs beginning Friday and continuing through the weekend from the Canada-Ukraine Fed Cup Group II Playoff in Montreal.