Vintage Rafa steals the show
Rafael Nadal rolled back the years with some vintage play to breeze through his first two sets against Matteo Berrettini before advancing to the Australian Open final in four sets and his throwback performance was not lost on those watching around the world.
Comedian Ben Stiller, a long-time tennis fan who has attended several matches over the years and even sat in Nadal’s box one time at the 2018 US Open, marveled at the Spaniard’s level against Berrettini on Friday.
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“Watching 35 year old #Rafa operate at this level is so special,” tweeted Stiller during the match.
Laura Robson tweeted: “Feel like I’m watching 2010 Rafa. Vintage”, while one Twitter user posted: “Rafa really out here playing all the bangers off the first album.”
Can the Spaniard clinch his first Australian Open title since 2009 and break the men’s all-time Grand Slam record by winning a 21st major on Sunday?
‘I feel alive again’
Nadal has said multiple times this fortnight that his chronic foot injury got so bad at the end of last year, he wasn’t sure he would be able to continue to play professional tennis. Now he’s in a Grand Slam final again, playing some explosive tennis.
“Six months off, you don’t even know if you’re going to come back and play professional tennis and now you play at this level. What’s the most surprising to you: Is it the way you hit the ball, the way you move, or the way you can still solve the problems?” tennis legend and Eurosport analyst Mats Wilander asked Nadal on Friday.
Nadal responded: “Mats, being honest, everything. The people from outside, it’s difficult to believe. But the people who are next to me and watched and lived my daily conditions for the last six months, difficult to understand that I was able to play at this level right now.
“Difficult to explain honestly, but I feel lucky just playing tennis. I’m playing I think with a great attitude, positive feelings.
“I feel alive again in terms of competitive spirit; I missed that feeling and I’m enjoying it. The pressure it not much for me now, I never believed that I will have the chance to be where I am today. So I’m just enjoying every single moment and of course trying my best.”
Sounds like he’s found his sweet spot again.
‘I missed that feeling’ – Nadal says he feels ‘alive again’
Eva to the rescue
Daniil Medvedev moved into a second consecutive Australian Open final on Friday, but not before he went on an explosive rant on court, abusing the chair umpire and calling him “stupid” and a “small cat” for not giving his opponent Stefanos Tsitsipas a code violation for coaching.
The world No.2, who won in four sets, was complaining about Tsitsipas’ father and coach, Apostolos, for consistently talking during the match and asked the umpire if he understood Greek to determine whether Tsitsipas should be coded for illegal coaching or not.
Shortly after, Greek tennis umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore was called to Rod Laver Arena and she stood in the tunnel, right underneath Tsitsipas’ box, so she could monitor Apostolos’ actions. Moments later, she signalled to the chair umpire to tell him Tsitsipas’ father has indeed committed a coaching violation and the No.4 seed was immediately given a code.
You can’t make this stuff up!
Stafanos Tsitsipas’ father Apostolos was the centre of controversy during the Australian Open semi-final match against Daniil Medvedev
Image credit: Getty Images
Tsitsipas later said he felt like he has been a “victim” to chair umpires always giving him coaching violations, even though he can never hear what his father is saying, and prefers not to be given tips during matches.
The 23-year-old also explained that it is a problem that will continue, given his father’s tendency to talk during matches, and he wished the sport would just legalise coaching from the stands because “coaches do it anyway”.
“I’ve had that discussion. My father, look, he’s a person that when he gets into something when there is a lot of action, his medicine is to talk, and you can’t stop it. It’s something that he does from nature,” said Tsitsipas.
“I’ve talked to him about it. I’ve tried, spent countless hours trying to figure it out with him, but it’s part of him.
“I’m pretty sure I’m going to keep receiving coaching violations, even though I will never listen to any single thing he says. But it’s fine, they can do that if they want, if they believe it’s right.”
‘Are you stupid?’ – Medvedev lets rip at umpire over Tsitsipas ‘coaching from father’
Very superstitious (*in Stevie Wonder’s voice*)
We all know Nadal loves his on-court routines; from meticulously placing his water bottles in the same spot, facing a certain direction, to his pre-serving habits like fixing his shorts and his hair before tossing the ball.
Turns out, Nadal isn’t the only one on his team with unshakeable habits. His good friend Marc Lopez, a new addition to the Mallorcan’s coaching staff, told Spanish radio show El Larguero that he refuses to shave as long as Nadal is winning.
“I won’t shave my beard because I’m superstitious,” confessed Lopez. “I wanted to cut my hair and shave in Barcelona before travelling but when Rafa started to win, I decided not to cut my hair nor shave for superstition. Sorry for how I look.”
Just hang on for two more days, Marc!
Belgian teen soaks up the Greek support
The massive Greek community in Melbourne has gotten used to turning up big for Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari these past few years at the Australian Open.
But this year, Greek fans have also turned their attention to the junior tournament where Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas, who has strong Greek roots, has marched into the girls’ singles final.
The 16-year-old Costoulas started playing tennis because of Belgian four-time major champion Kim Clijsters and references Greek pair Tsitsipas and Sakkari as players she loves to watch.
“My Greek culture is very important to me. I love Greek culture and I love Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari. I look up to them both and I love that I am a little bit Greek,” Costoulas told reporters in Melbourne this week.
“I have a lot of family in Greece and I could speak fluent Greek when I was little.”
Costoulas, who is 11-0 win-loss this season, is looking to become the first Grand Slam junior champion from Belgium since 2012, when Kimmer Coppejans claimed victory in boys’ singles at Roland Garros.
Sofia Costoulas of Belgium plays a backhand in her Junior Girls Singles Quarterfinals match against Diana Shnaider of Russia during day 11 of the 2022 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 27, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Graham Denholm/
Image credit: Getty Images
Busiest bee in town
One junior player who deserves a proper shout-out is 17-year-old Aussie Charlotte Kempenaers-Pocz, who lost to Costoulas in the junior semis on Friday.
The South Australian was entered in four different events at this Australian Open and she contested 12 matches overall this fortnight at Melbourne Park.
She fell in three tight sets to Kateryna Bondarenko in the opening round of women’s qualifying, made the second round in women’s doubles alongside Kimberly Birrell, and reached the junior semi-finals in both singles and doubles.
That is some serious dedication to maximising on one’s opportunities.
“I grew up watching Ash (Barty) a lot. She’s been a big part of my development,” says Kempenaers-Pocz.
Asked if she is in contact with Barty or has received any advice from her, she said: “Not yet, but I did bump into her once and she knew my name; so I’m happy with that.”
Flexing for dad
Also through to the girls’ singles final is junior world No.1 Petra Marcinko, who survived a tight three-setter against American Liv Hovde and celebrated by looking towards her box and flexing her right biceps.
“There is this inside joke, because I have like no muscles, so it’s like I’m so strong. It was towards my dad. It’s more like sarcastic,” laughed the 16-year-old Croatian.
We recall a young Andy Murray doing the same thing!
Quote of the day
“Of course my goal now is to win. Of course always with competitive spirit that I have, because I can’t go against that; it’s my personal DNA. But being very honest, for me it’s much more important to have the chance to play tennis than win the 21, no?
“Because that’s makes me more happy in terms of general life, to be able to do the thing that I like to do more than achieving another Grand Slam.
“At the end of the day, the life, it’s about happiness and what makes me happy.”
— Another life lesson from Nadal.
‘Maybe a chance to say goodbye’ – Nadal admits he was close to retiring before Australian Open
Stats of the day
– Nadal reached the sixth Australian Open final of his career, and 29th Grand Slam final overall.
– His victory over Berrettini was his 75th match-win at the Australian Open and his 500th career match-win on hard courts.
– It was also Nadal’s 50th win against a top-10 player at a Grand Slam. Meanwhile Berrettini remains winless against top-10 opposition at the majors, falling behind to 0-7.
– At 35 years 241 days, Nadal is fourth-oldest man in the Open Era to reach a Grand Slam final, after Ken Rosewall (who reached six major finals aged older than Nadal is now), Roger Federer (who has made three Grand Slam finals aged older than Nadal is now) and Mal Anderson (who reached the Australian Open final in 1972 aged 36 years 306 days).
– Medvedev is through to a fourth Grand Slam final which sees him equal Dominic Thiem and Stan Wawrinka in fifth place on the list for most major final appearances among active male players.
– Tsitsipas won just 14 out of 100 receiving points through four sets against Medvedev.
– – –
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Source: Euro Sports