Not Exactly An El Clásico, But Nadal Earns Career Win 1,000

WASHINGTON/PARIS, November 4, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Last month in Paris, Rafael Nadal earned his 999th career victory when he beat Novak Djokovic to earn his 13th Roland Garros title. This week, the World No. 2 from Spain returned to the City of Lights in search of career win 1,000.

Wednesday evening, Nadal faced friend and fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez in a featured Court Central battle of left-handers at the Rolex Paris Masters inside a nearly empty AccorHotels Arena in the Bercy neighborhood of Paris in the 12th arrondissement that would normally be filled to its 20,300-seat capacity with cheering fans. Instead, with just their teams and a handful of tournament staff looking on, Lopez attempted to beat Nadal for the third straight time. It didn’t happen.

In a match devoid of any long rallies – certainly not an El Clásico – Nadal earned his career win 1,000 with a 4-6 7-6 (5), 6-4 victory over Lopez in two hours and 30 minutes.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Nadal during his virtual press conference, shortly after he left Court Central, what achieving his 1,000th career victory meant to him, he smiled at the question for a moment and quipped, “Well, that means that I am old!”

Then, in a more serious and philosophical tone of voice, Nadal continued his thought, saying: “That means that I played well for such a very long time, because to achieve that number is because I have been playing well for a lot of years and is something that makes me feel happy, no?

“I just can say thank you very much to all the people that helped me and all the people that in any moment of my life helped me to be where I am, no?”

“So, yeah, just is have been a special moment. I know is a very special number, 1000. Even if it’s not the same to celebrate something like this without a crowd, I enjoy it with ATP, with the president of the French Federation, Guy Forget, supervisor and the ball boys.

“I enjoy it and just can say thanks to all of them to make this moment a little bit more special.”

As it happened, the second-round match between Nadal and Lopez was devoid of any particular patterns or rhythms. However, as it became evident from the very beginning, there was very little margin for error.

Lopez earned a service break in the opening game of the match and made it stand up during the 40-minute first set, which he won 6-4. Lopez closed it out with a service hold at love, in which he won a remarkable 93 percent of his first-serve points and saved the only break point he faced from Nadal. Lopez outpointed Nadal in the opening set 31-27.

With neither player able to break the other’s serve – and despite Nadal’s inability to convert any of the five break-point opportunities he leveraged against Lopez, the 66-minute middle set was decided by a tie-break, in which Nadal prevailed 7-5. On his third set-point, serving at 6-5, Lopez netted a backhand that ended an eight-shot rally. Nadal hit nine aces during the second set and won 96 percent (23 of 24) of his first serves.

So, it was on to a decider. Nadal broke Lopez to open the third set, applying just enough mental pressure against his fellow Spaniard to make a tangible difference between winning and losing . With two match points on his racquet at 5-4, 40-15, Nadal hit a return long that saved a match point for Lopez. However, on Nadal’s second try for career win 1,000, Lopez netted a forehand return on the eighth shot of the rally that wrapped the victory for Nadal.

Nadal finished with 16 service aces, an 89-percent efficiency rate (51 of 57) in winning first-serve points and  saved three of four break points. He overcame Lopez’s 22 aces and outpointed Lopez 105-96.

With career victory 1,000 secured, Nadal joins Hall of Famers Jimmy Connors (1,274) and Ivan Lendl (1,068), and contemporary and future Hall of Famer Roger Federer (1,242) as the fourth player to earn 1,000 singles wins in the Open Era. He’s also celebrating his 789th consecutive week in the Top 10, which ties Connors’ all-time record set from 1973-88. Nadal has been ranked in the Top 10 each week since April 25, 2005.

Zverev remains focused: ‘I’m here to play tennis’

No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany was an easy winner over No. 42 Miomir Kecmanovic from Serbia, 6-2, 6-2, in 55 minutes on Court Central. It was Zverev’s ninth straight win, which includes winning back-to-back titles at Cologne in October.

The World No. 7 Zverev won 81 percent (34 of 42) of his service points against Kecmanovic, including eight aces, and did not face any break points during his 55-minute match that concluded the afternoon session. Zverev broke his opponent four times in six tries and outpointed him 58-31.

When Zverev was asked by Tennis TourTalk at the beginning of his virtual press conference how he has managed to stay so focused on court with everything that he’s been dealing with off the court – related to the news that he’s fathered a child with one ex-girlfriend while dealing with domestic abuse allegations stemming from a relationship with another ex-girlfriend, which he has denied – he said: “Well, I’m here to play tennis. So, you know, I have been doing that well the last few weeks. I mean, since the comeback of the season, and I want to continue doing that. As you said, there is obviously a little bit of things going on. There is some very good news, I think.

“Yeah, I’m happy to be here and playing tennis.”

When Zverev was pressed about the matter further by a reporter from the BBC, the young, 23-year-old German said, “Look, right now, as I said, I have said everything on my Instagram. Yeah, there is nothing else I can add right now. I’m here. I’m here to play tennis.

“I mean, the relationship, as I said, has been over for a very long time. …

“I’m enjoying my time on court. I have said everything. They are not true, and there is nothing more I can say right now.”

Schwartzman finally beats Gasquet

Diego Schwartzman had never beaten Richard Gasquet before their second-round match on Court Central Wednesday afternoon. The No. 6 seed from Argentina came in 0-3 lifetime and had never even won a set against the 56th-ranked Frenchman. Schwartzman’s luck and good fortune changed with his 7-5, 6-3 win that lifted him into the third round against Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Against Gasquet, the 28-year-old, in-form Schwartzman had nine easy service holds out of 11, hit six aces against zero double faults, and was broken just once during their one hour and 24-minute match. Schwartzman won 84 percent (32 of 38) of his first-serve points and 78 percent of his serves overall as he dropped just 12 points on serve. Meanwhile, the diminutive Argentine broke Gasquet three times in six tries – including in the 12th game of the match to win the opening set – and outpointed him 70-52 for his 24th win of the abbreviated season. Gasquet’s record fell to 7-9.

During a post-match TV interview, Schwartzman took credit for his improvement, which is reflected by the three finals he has reached this season. He also gave props to Gasquet for making him earn his victory. “Richard is such a good player, he’s always playing really good tennis. He knows how to play. I had never beaten him before this match; it was tough. I think I played a really good match.

“I have the confidence right now. Obviously, I’m a different player.”

Later, during his virtual press conference, he explained to Tennis TourTalk, “I’m doing different things on court, and I have the confidence. I was playing really, really well the last few weeks. So, all the mix was helping me to win today. I think that’s why I beat him for the first time today.”

Gasquet was asked by Tennis TourTalk if he thought Schwartzman was a better player now than when they had met previously. “Of course, he’s much better,” Gasquet said. “He’s No. 9 in the world. He did semis in Paris and final in Rome. … When I was playing against him [before], I was Top 10, Top 15. He was maybe 30, 40. So, it’s not the same at all. 

I tried my best. I know he has good rhythm, been really good from the baseline. He didn’t miss at all. So, he’s playing fast. He was a tough opponent for me. It was very tough, especially losing the first set but I tried my best. He was just better on the court.”

Around the AccorHotels Arena

• No. 3 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia advanced to the third round after 86th-ranked Kevin Anderson of South Africa retired from their match, trailing 2-5 in a first-set tiebreak, due to an adductor injury. Anderson was forced to retire from his Erste Bank Open semifinal last Saturday in Vienna because of a right leg injury. By all appearances, Anderson’s retirement Wednesday was due to a recurrence of the same leg injury. His played with his right leg heavily taped.

Afterward, during a TV interview, Medvedev said of his abbreviated effort: “It was not bad. I think the only thing I’m not happy with is that I should have realized one of the break points Ihad, especially in a match against an opponent like Kevin, you have to use your chances. So, that’s the only thing I could have done better. I was serving quite well, I think from the baseline I was not that bad. So, I got into the tournament and I’m ready for my next matches.”

Next, Medvedev will play No. 16 seed Alex de Minaur of Australia, who beat No. 32 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, 6-3, 7-5, in one hour and 27 minutes with solid all-around play. De Minaur was not broken in 10 service games and he outpointed Sonego 72-52.

• No. 5 seed Andrey Rublev of Russia won his 40th match of the season with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over 90th-ranked lucky loser Radu Albot of Moldova on Court 1. The 23-year-old Rublev, fresh off his fifth ATP Tour title victory in Vienna Sunday, made his tournament debut Wednesday evening and needed just 58 minutes to advance. He hit six aces, won 91 percent (21 of 23) of his first serves and outpointed Albot 58-30. He will face No. 12 seed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland in Thursday’s third round.

Wawrinka wrapped up his 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2 second-round victory over No. 55 Tommy Paul of the United States at midnight. The World No. 20 hit eight aces and broke Paul’s serve six times during their two hour and 21-minute match on Court Central. Wawrinka outpointed Paul 115-105.

Afterward, Wawrinka told Tennis TourTalk it was the first time he’s played against Paul; they’ve never practiced together. “He’s a great young player and I didn’t know exactly what to expect.

“So I was a little bit looking too much [at] what he was doing. I think in general my fighting spirit was good,” Wawrinka continued. I was trying to stay as much as possible on the match, and I’m happy with the victory. For me it’s that kind of match that I need right now in the last tournament of the year to build something for next year.”

• No 10 seed Milos Raonic of Canada moved into the third round with a 6-4, 6-4 win over 85th-ranked French wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert in a Court Central matchup of kindred spirits. The 17th-ranked Raonic, who leads the ATP Tour in service aces, fired 11 and won 89 percent (31 of 35) of his first-serve points, saved the only break point he faced and outpointed Herbert 67-53. Next, Raonic will face 91st-ranked American qualifier Marcos Giron, who took out No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy early Wednesday morning.

• Spanish qualifier Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, ranked 63rd, defeated 180th-ranked wild card Benjamin Bonzi of France, 6-4, 6-4, to reach his first Masters 1000 third round. Davidovich Fokina will oppose No. 6 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

• No. 36 Adrian Mannarino of France advanced to the third round with a hard-fought 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3 win over No. 51 Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan that took two hours and 47 minutes to decide the outcome. Mannarino hit nine aces, won 83 percent (53 of 64) of his fist serves and was broken just once. He outpointed Nishioka 122-104. Next, he will play No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany.

• No. 61 Jordan Thompson of Australia rallied to upset No. 15 seed Borna Coric from Croatia, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, on Court 1. Thompson overcame Coric’s 14 service aces by breaking his serve five times in 10 tries and outpointing him 87-83. It was Thompson’s third win in his past two tournaments and it avenged a round of 16 loss to Coric at this year’s US Open. Wednesday’s triumph advanced Thompson into the third round against No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal on Thursday afternoon.

Rolex Paris Masters news & notes

• Diego Schwartzman, who has the inside track on becoming the eighth and final qualifier for the Nitto ATP Finals in London later this month, said, “I have it in my hands but I am watching the other matches, obviously. I want to be there, I’m try to do my best on the court.”

• With three qualifiers – Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, Marcos Giron and Norbert Gombos – into the Rolex Paris Masters third round, it’s the first time this has happened since 1999 (Michael Chang, Sjeng Schalken and John van Lottum).

Click here for Wednesday’s results