The big 8 players: Who is improving now?

Andy Murray

With no one playing tournaments due to the coronavirus, the question is: Are they are improving, on court and off court? The great thing is that it has been almost two-and-a-half months at home, so they can heal any injury issues. 

At this point, they feel very good with their legs, knees, arms, backs, etc. Actually tennis players are rarely 100 percent healthy because they are playing all the time. They play month after month, from January all the way into November. Basically, the entire year. 

A schedule of tournament after tournament means too much wear and tear. For the foreseeable future, this isn’t going to change on the ATP and WTA tours.

Right now, all the players have said that they want to come back ASAP, because they miss it. 

Of course they do, because the reason why they managed to reach the top 10, top 100 and top 200 was playing constantly, learning how to hit the ball properly.

But, as the top players say, they always have to improve. No one is perfect. Here are eight players who are great, but what are they currently doing to get even better? 

Novak Djokovic
The Serb can crack his backhand, forever. His serve, his returns and speed is outstanding and his forehand is much better than when he started. However, he has to flatten out his forehand and nail it down the line. Get rid of the spin.
Rafa Nadal
The Spaniard is so efficient, with his heavy and hard forehand, his deep returns, his first serve, and volleys. Plus he has lot of confidence when he gets to the net. However, his backhand is O.K. — which is much better then he started winning his first Slam in 2005 — but it can fall short, and he needs to nail it cross-court.
Roger Federer
The Swiss can do so many things: his phenomenal forehands, his tricky serves, his intelligent returns, and he bangs down so low that he can kiss the net. He has won 20 Grand Slams, which means that right now, he is the best player ever. However, while he has improved his one-handed backhand, he still needs to leap on the ball and hit it close to the lines. If he is going to upend Nadal and Djokovic, who have beaten Federer many times, the 38-year-old has to take a huge amount of risks to win one more Slam.    

Andy Murray
Yes, Brit Murray hasn’t played much over the past two years because he was seriously hurt and he almost retired. But the three-time Grand Slam champion is a darn good player. If he can become healthy again — which will be very difficult — then, at some point, he can reach into the top 10 again. The 33-year-old loves watching tennis, playing tennis and thinking about tennis. That is his life, at least or now. For him to go deep again, he cannot continually grind it out, the way he used to. He has to go for his shots pretty early or he can become wounded once again. 
Ash Barty
The Australian No. 1 Barty has won a Slam at Roland Garros. Since she returned a few years ago from a try at cricket, she became much better month after month, with confidence and more court sense. She has a tremendous variety, and she is so steady. However, she needs to improve her serves, especially her second serve. Or else, players will attack and knock her way back in the court. 

Bianca Andreescu

Serena Williams
She has the best serve, forehand and backhand, But Serena needs to come in more at the net and put the ball away. She is 39 years old and just getting older. Can she can win one more Grand Slam? When will she do it? Does she still have the mental strength to take a slam final? I have no idea, but she can do it, and finally retire with a phenomenal 24 majors.
Sofia Kenin 
At the start of this year, the American won the 2020 Australian, her first Grand  Slam. She is very strong, young, and she pushes herself forward with huge swings. She took down Ash Barty and Garbine Muguruza to win it. She can be very combative, her forehand has a lot of spin, and she slaps her backhand. But she can be inpatient If she wants to become No. 1, she has to clam down. But she is already on her way there.

Bianca Andreescu 
The Canadian is young. But, last year, when she rose up quickly, she nailed so many winners that it was so clear she would reach the top 10 immediately. She did, because she was never afraid and she won the 2019 US Open, blasting everyone. She does get hurt a lot, which is not good, but hopefully she can figure it out. If she is going to improve, she needs be more consistent in the rallies.

Nadal and Spain win the Davis Cup

Rafael Nadal

It is the end of the year, for the men, after almost 11 months. They are done, finally, at the end of November, and the No. 1, Rafa Nadal, has had a tremendous year. 

On Sunday, in Madrid, Spain won the title at the Davis Cup, beating Canada 2-0. 

Nadal won everything, in singles, and believe it or not, in the doubles, too. Through the year, the lefty Spaniard rarely plays doubles because he wants to make sure that if he does, he could get hurt and he would not play at all. But the 33-year-old is very careful now, with the exception of playing clay constantly, but when he is conscious of how his body is reacting, then he can just rip the ball and be aggressive.

On Sunday, in the final, he edged the young man, Denis Shapovalov, 6-3, 7-6. The Canadian Shapovalov had a fine event, in the singles and doubles, too. But, in this match, Nadal was a little more intense and he was on fire. Over the past two years, the now 20-year-old Shapovalov has gotten better, and next year, he may crack into the top 10, but currently, he get frustrated, and he knock it too long. Shapovalov looks pretty darn good, but to win the match, he had to overcome the fans who were screaming for Nadal. To stun Nadal at his home, well, Shapovalov would have to play 100 percent. That is very difficult, and while the Canadian was trying as hard as he could, he must realize that the 19-Grand Slam champion Nadal is better than he is. 

Shapovalov did upset Nadal in Montreal two years ago, but that was then, and this was now.

In the first match, the veteran Roberto Bautista Agut beat a super young player, Felix Auger-Aliassime, 7-6 6-3. Nadal was raring to go, and he did. Nadal was lethal with his big forehand, and he mixed his serve into the middle into the chest, and he touched the corners. He could swing it away, because Spain already was up a match.

Nadal won all eight matches, including five singles, and three doubles. He did not drop a set. He is the clear No. 1, winning Roland Garros, the US Open and now the Davis Cup, among others. 

Since 2000, Spain has won the Davis Cup six times. It wasn’t just about Nadal.

Next January, Nadal will be thinking about winning the Australian Open. If he does that, he will tie with Roger Federer at 20 Slams. Of course, he can wait until Roland Garros, which he has won 12 times in June on clay, but perhaps Nadal wants to celebrate on the hard courts in Melbourne. He never brags, but for everyone, they have to here the voices when you are sleeping. You cannot take it away. Or perhaps, the dreams will hide you, but for Nadal, when you are awake, then you will think about it and believe he can still beat everyone. Just like he did at Madrid.

Zverev has started to climb up the mountains, beats Nadal

Alexander ZAverev

No. 1 Rafa Nadal can play fantastic in the winter, the spring and the summer. But, in the fall, the Spaniard’s legs collapse. He wants to play — he always wants to walk on the court and crack the ball — but he is 33 years old. While he can win another Grand Slam in 2020 (isn’t Roland Garros his for the picking?), or to win the ATP 1000s, too, that does not mean that he can compete a lot year after year.

Yes, this season, Nadal won Roland Garros and the US Open. That is tremendous, but he absolutely has to rest. He does a bit, but in the ATP 1000 Paris two weeks ago, he pulled out after the quarters. He wanted to be healthy in anticipation for London.

Against Alexander Zverev on Monday, Nadal couldn’t play well at all. He could not smoke the ball. He hit it short, and all over the place.

Zverev did play quite well; he was solid, strong and patient. He beat Nadal 6-2, 6-4, which was a little bit surprising, considering that Nadal had beaten the German five times. But, not this time. As the Spaniard said, he came to London, but his body is suspect.

“I am disappointed, because knowing that I will not be at my 100 percent in terms of feelings, in terms of movement, in terms of confidence or hitting the ball. I needed my best competitive spirit , and I was not there in that way,” Nadal said.

How about this? Zverev hit 26 winners, while Nadal hit just three forehand winners. Given that his forehand is the best in the game, he just wasn’t sharp. He is dealing with his abdominal injury. Maybe on Wednesday, Nadal will shake it off and pound it.

“What really matters is I need to play much better in two days,” Nadal said. That’s the only thing.”

The good thing about Zverev is that he admitted that he has had a so-so year, and he struggled, a lot. Last year, a year ago, he was riding high. Then he slipped way down. Over the past month, he has started to climb up the mountains. On Monday, Zverev looked very different.

Can Zverev, the defending champ, win it again? It is too early to say, because they just started and they will play three matches, win or lose. Zverev really likes the London O2. On Wednesday, Zverev will go against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who just beat Daniil Medvedev.

At the Slams, Nadal has played for 15 years, while the other three are just starting out. All three of them are enthusiastic, but Nadal must be irritated because he lost. He doesn’t like pushing the ball, so on Wednesday, win or lose, he is going to swing much harder and, hopefully, inside the lines.

Nadal, Djokovic and Federer will clash at the ATP Finals

Rafael Nadal, Rafa Nadal

Rafa Nadal comes into the ATP Finals with just a week off since he withdrew from the Paris Masters semifinal with an abdominal strain, and there are a lot of questions about him physically — but not about his game.

The lefty can smash his forehand, stay very patient, and is still willing to have long rallies where he will blast it into the corners when the other player is exhausted. The 19-time Grand Slam champion has also improved his backhand — it’s deeper now — and he is tough to beat at the net, when he comes in. Though he stands way behind the baseline when he is returning, almost on the wall, he can get it back regularly and then get into the point.

While people know that he is the best player ever on clay, winning 11 times at Roland Garros, he has won on hardcourts both at the Australian Open and the US Open. So when Nadal is healthy, he can beat them all everywhere.

But the problem for Nadal at the ATP Finals has been being healthy, because he’s withdrawn or retired there six times, exhausted from a long season. This time, he says he doesn’t know what shape he will be in when he takes the court. He really wants to win it, though, badly, and certainly can if he plays like he is capable of.

Serbian Novak Djokovic has won here a lot of times before, and he might do it once again. The photos show why — when he is locked in, his eyes are very wide, and he is looking directly at the ball. He will return deep, and then he will camp on the baseline with his amazing backhand, and he will rally crosscourt until he can knock it down the line. He has won 16 Grand Slams, and this year, the Australian Open and Wimbledon. That was crazy, considering that the Spaniard and Djokovic have played each other 50 times. Most of it, it was darn close.

Djokovic just won ATP Masters Paris, and while he was a little bit injured and off during the last few months, he has been around for a long time and he knows that as long as he practices, he will eventually return playing terrific. Currently, he is very close to playing 100 percent, and he is feeling confident. He wants to become No. 1 again, and push everyone aside. Without a doubt, he is the top favorite to win it again.

Roger Federer has had a solid year. He was unable to win a Grand Slam again, but he also won four tournaments, which means that he is still alive. In July, at Wimbledon, Federer lost 13-12 in the fifth against Djokovic. Even if he lost, he is still good on the move, and he can be spectacular. Federer thinks deeply, and he can change the tactics when he has to, using his variety. At the ATP Finals, he has won a record six titles. He has beaten them all, but he has lost, too. In 2018, he went down to Alexander Zverev. In London, he has a fine chance to win it once again, standing at the net and putting away his volleys. Federer is always very competitive against the top players.

The ATP Finals odds have three distinct tiers, according to Sports Betting Dime. Djokovic (+120) is in a class by himself, followed by Federer (+400), Medvedev (+450) and Nadal (+500). Zverev (+1200), Tsitsipas (+1200), Thiem (+1400) and Berrettini (+2200) are the longshots. The best value among the bottom four looks to be Tsitsipas. With wins over Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, and Zverev (twice) this season, his upside is as high as Medvedev, though his consistency is lacking.

Daniil Medvedev has had an incredible year. He started back in July, when he reached six finals in a row. It took the 23-year-old Russian five years to become smarter and more thoughtful about when to go for it and when to hold back. He is tall, steady and he can rip his first serve, his forehand and his backhand. Now, he’s aiming to show the fans who he is. Recently, Medvedev said that he wants to become No. 1 soon. Yet he first has to upend the big boys — Nadal, Djokovic and Federer. He has a wonderful shot to win it all.

Dominic Thiem is no longer one of the youngsters, as he is now 26 years old. But, the Austrian still has a long career in front of him, so he can grab a major, perhaps next year. On clay, he has reached the final twice at Roland Garros, and looked very good as he has heavy strokes, deep shots, but he could not do enough to upset Nadal.

On the hardcourts, Thiem has improved a decent amount over the last couple years and his first Masters title this season was on this surface. He moves well inside the court, he can be aggressive and go for the lines, both ways, with his forehand and his backhand. Yet to win the tournament would be his best performance ever and, at the moment, he doesn’t quite look close enough.

Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas has had a very good year at times, though he can be up and down. He has played a number of long matches this season, showing he can smash his first serve, pin his forehand and he can also rally, too. He certainly needs to return better, but in the past year, the 21-year-old is very steady with his backhand. Tsitsipas is intelligent, he listens to his coach, and his goal is that one day, he will become the best player on tour.

Maybe he will, but first, in London, he has to focus every moment to upset the great veterans and he must find the corners because of the speed of the indoor court. Tsitsipas may not win it all, but he is very excited to be there for the first time, so he will give it all. To win it would be surprising. He isn’t ready yet. But, soon.

When Zverev is on, he can be very positive, but when he isn’t, he can become very angry. Problems off the court this season have sometimes left him not concentrating fully on the court. That is why from March through September, he lost early and often. Yet in the fall, he recomposed himself, and while he isn’t playing fantastic, but he is much better than he was at the US Open. He was mentally gone there, saying he had no confidence.

It was very different at the 2018 ATP Finals, which Zverev won, beating Federer and Djokovic. It looked like he was going to win a major, but he didn’t. Perhaps, some year, but currently, mentally, at the ATP Finals he is not playing at the level to win it again.

From nowhere, an Italian made into the ATP Finals and it wasn’t even Fabio Fognini. Matteo Berrettini is pretty young, and he has yet to win a big tournament. But, at the US Open, he upset Gael Monfils in the quarters, 7-6 (5) in the fifth. He was overjoyed. When he started the year, he was ranked No. 54, and in April, he took off.

Berrettini is a huge hitter with his forehand, but he can be steady, too. He is 23 years old — so he is still young — and he will have to get better all around. Yes, next year he can make an attempt to enter the top 5, but this week at the ATP Finals, he has virtually no chance to win it. He will be very nervous.

Medvedev is on a roll

Daniil Medevdev

Every week, now, the Russian Daniil Medvedev is rising very quickly. Last week, he won Shanghai, beating everyone, including No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev. Not only is he very powerful, and pretty steady, but he can change his direction when he has to.

He is very tall, he is fast, he can smack his forehand and with some fine spin. Finally, he is aggressive, most of the time, and he gets bolder every week.

Medvedev is young, but he is a little more mature, and he is definitely fearless. Over the past two-and-a-half months, he has reached the finals six times in a row, winning two of the ATP 1000 Masters Series, Cincy and Shanghai.

He is 6’6”, and now he has 58 wins. What a year — so far. Yes, he has played extremely well since August. But he has yet to win a Grand Slam, which is three out of five sets, not two out of three. He will need more the legs, brainpower and breath to win a major.

In the next month, Medvedev can continue to win, in Paris and the ATP Finals in London. But, can he take out Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer in one week? Maybe, but now they all know how he plays. The Big 3 know how to combat their opponents and Medvedev will be in their sights.

Will Medvedev reach another fina, or will he eventually fold? It happens to everyone. Even though he has progressed a lot, fortunes can change. Right now, he is on a roll. Can anyone catch him?

Will Rafa Nadal win 20 Grand Slams or more?

©Mal Taam/TennisClix/CSM

A few days ago, I wrote that during the fall lots of people will debate whether Rafa Nadal will end up being the best player, ever. That is true. There are a lot of people who really like him, especially in Spain. Nadal is a terrific player, a very intense person on court, he competes and thinks on every point he plays. He now has 19 Grand Slam titles when he won the 2019 US Open, outlasting Daniil Medvedev in five very tough sets. 

Nadal is 33-years-old and he does get hurt nearly each year. But, this season, he didn’t destroy his body. Now hee actually rests, for the first time. At the 2019 Australian Open, he reached the final, but then the No. 1 Novak Djokovic crushed him. Nadal wouldn’t play for another month, and he came back, but it was pretty slowly. His legs weren’t quite there yet, with his sore legs.

And then it changed, in mid-May, winning Rome and Roland Garros. Nadal was more enterprising and stoic at the same time.

At Wimbledon, he lost to the fantastic Roger Federer in four sets in the semis. The Swiss loves grass, he has won it eight times, he goes into the net, very quickly. He can slide or hit elegant drop shots from the net. Nadal has won it twice, most notably in the 2008 epic final against the 20-time Grand Slam titlist Federer. The Swiss is the ruler of grass. Kind of.

Back on hard courts, Nadal was hooked in. He won Montreal and the US Open. Maybe he was tired a little bit, but he just kept pounding, minute after minute. 

He barely beat Medvedev, 6-4 in the fifth. The Russian is 10 years younger, 23 years. He doesn’t get exhausted at all, and he hits some wonderful shots. His big forehand and his hard backhand are strong. But he couldn’t step on Nadal. At the Slams, in 2020, maybe Medvedev can trip him up. But he has to wait until January.

However, he could face him again during the fall. There are some big tournaments coming, like Shanghai, Paris, the ATP Final and the Davis Cup final. That could be a blast again, with the No. 2 Nadal versus the No. 4 Medvedev.

Eventually, Medvedev will be able to beat Nadal because Nadal can’t beat the clock. That is reality. But, in the next three years, if Nadal is healthy, then the Spaniard can win at least a few more Grand Slams. How about 21 majors, or 22? 

US Open final: Nadal vs. Medvedev, can the ‘older’ Rafa win it?

There are times when Rafa Nadal isn’t crushing the ball, and the Spaniard has said that he was a little nervous, or mentally somewhere else. Most times, though, he pushes himself until he finds the solution.

Nadal has won 18 Grand Slams, and on Sunday at the US Open, he will be favored against the rising Russian Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal pays attention, scouting the good, young players at the tournaments or watching on TV. He studies, which is very important. But, really, you have to be playing on court against the opponent. Whether you are practicing, or playing against him, eventually, you will understand their game.

The 33-year-old Nadal knows about the two other fantastic players, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, because they have played against each other so, so many times. But he has not been around with Medvedev too often. However, five weeks ago, they played each other in the final for the first time and Nadal crushed him in Montreal, 6-3, 6-0. He was just much more consistent, and solid.

Perhaps that the Russian was too tired, or messed up in Canada. And the next week, in Cincinnati, he kept trying, thinking and keep the ball in the court. Medvedev won the event (Nadal pulled out before play started), upsetting with the No. 1 Novak Djokovic, and now he is happy and driven. That’s why the No. 5 advanced this final.

At 6’6”, he is very tall, he is potent and he can mash his first serve. He can also be patient.

Nadal likes hitting spin, especially with his massive forehand. When he returns, he stands way back behind the court, and frequently, he gets it back. Here comes the rally.  

If Medvedev wants to win, he just has to focus on the ball for every shot. It appears that the Russian will win a Grand Slam someday, but not yet.

Nadal will play almost spectacular for a couple hours, and he will win in four sets. The gigantic lefty will have his 19th Slam.

Andreescu wins the US Open
There are times when people reach the final of a Grand Slam, and then they freeze. But, that wasn’t Bianca Andreescu, who beat Serena Williams, 6-3, 7-5. Serena has won it 23 major titles, but the 19-year-old Andreescu had not done it yet.

Going into the final, and watching her, she was so intense, and she could smack the ball off both sides. She also can return well, too.

That is why that coming into the US Open, she had won Indian Wells and Toronto, two huge titles. But to win a Slam, against everyone? That was questionable. But, oh no, there she went, hustling, sprinting and just putting it away, game after game.

The Canadian was up 6-3, 5-1, and it looked like she was about to win. Serena was not playing well, especially her serve and her forehand. But, all of a sudden, Williams began to play well. And Andreescu almost froze.

It was 5-5 in the second, the American fans were thrilled, cheering loudly for Serena. But, then Andreescu began to be good again, hitting with depth, and force in the backcourts. She wasn’t nervous anymore, she stared down and she won it. She did cry, almost everyone has, and she smiled for a long time.

Now the No. 5 Andreescu can become No. 1 fairly soon. Perhaps at the end of the year, or at the beginning of 2020. If Andreescu stay healthy, she will win a Slam again, without a doubt. She is that good.

Wimbledon: The top 32 men, the seeds have switched

On Wednesday, the All England Lawn Tennis Club pushed away from the ATP/WTA rankings for the 32 singles seeds.

There are a number of people who do not want to switch the seeds at Wimbledon. But, in reality, it makes for exciting matchups, especially on grass.

Rafa Nadal just won Roland Garros in Paris again, and he is on a roll, and he loves clay. He has been very good, too, and has two Wimbledon crowns. However, Roger Federer has won it in London eight times. It is clearly that he is the best player on grass ever.

So, Wimbledon swapped them; Federer is now seeded No. 2, and Nadal went down to No. 3.

Djokovic has won Wimbledon four times, including in 2018, so he is still No. 1 because of that. All three of them know how to win the Big W.

It is somewhat surprising that Kevin Anderson has been moved up to No. 4, even though he is ranked No. 8. That is a big jump, to leap four spots. But, he eliminated Federer and reached the final last year, so that helps.

Lately, he has been injured a lot. Anderson has only played four tournaments in 2019. While when he is heathy, he can play excellent ball, but right now, he isn’t on top of it. To knock him up to No. 4, that is a big deal.

A few more men have moved up: John Isner, from No. 12 to No. 9 (who lost 26-24 in the fifth set in the semis against Anderson), Marin Cilic from No. 18 to No. 13 (who won the Queen’s Club in 2018), Gilles Simon (who just reached the final at Queen’s Club), and Alex de Minaur, who went from No. 25 to No. 20. He won Nottingham on grass last year.

Of the top three, Federer, Djokovic and Nadal are the favorites, obviously, but there is a small chance that someone can win it for the first time. Andy Murray has won it twice, but he is not playing singles in Wimbledon, because he just came back due to a very tough hip injury. He just wants to play in doubles. Eventually I would think, sometime in the next few months, he will walk on court and play singles, because he totally loves it. But not next week.

There are a few very good young (22 and younger) men who can do deep: Alexandra Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Borna Coric, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov. They are in the top 32 seeds.

Zverev isn’t playing great, but he can turn it around quickly. Tsitsipas reached the semis at the Aussie Open, and he can crush the ball, but he is still learning to play. The teenager Auger-Aliassime is rising up quickly, showing lots of confidence. The Canadian can out-hit a lot of good players. When he locks in and focuses, he definitely can reach the second week, or even further. The other Canadian, Shapovalov, can be very powerful, but he gets frustrated at times.

But just about everyone loves Wimbledon, so all of them will battle until it ends, win or lose.

Preposterous? Nadal and Barty win Roland Garros

OK, Roland Garros is over. Finished. Done. It is on the grass now, most of it is in England. There is almost clay throughout the year, and the same thing goes with the hardcourts. But before thinking about the famous Wimbledon, there are a few thoughts about the French Open champions Rafa Nadal and Ash Barty, and others, too.

So, let us do it.

Nadal has won 12 majors in Paris. When he came into the tournament, the Spaniard wasn’t sure that if he would be hurt, which he has done it many times, then maybe he would lose. But, he really knows what he has to do, pay attention all the time, don’t even think about how sore his shaky legs, and swing hard.

Many people have to try to out-think him, to get into his brain. But at RG, Nadal cracked Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem. Those two cannot shake him. Once again, he pushed Federer to the left and the right, and down the middle. Nadal would pass him, or he would nail a winner with his huge forehand.

In the final, against Thiem, he knew that in the first couple hours, the Austrian would attack him frequently, and he would mix it up, too. They split the first two sets, but in the third set, Nadal began to punch away. He made very few errors, while Thiem became too anxious, and he was confused. He was done. Nadal beat him 6-3 5-7 6-1 6-1, and now he was thrilled, a new record that may well never be broken.

In the last five years, Nadal has played great tennis, from 2017 until now, but in 2015-2016 he also had to stop for months because he frequently was injured. But he just moves on, and he pushes himself and improves. He recovered, and on clay, in the past year and a half, he won Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Rome and Roland Garros. Also, on the hardcourts, he won the ATP 1000 in Canada in 2018.

The question is, can he win Wimbledon again? The last time he did was in 2010 — 10 years ago, when he beat Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych. If his legs are fine, Nadal definitely have a good shot.

A new Australian champion
Four years ago, Ashleigh Barty wasn’t playing tennis anymore. She quit for a couple years, playing professional cricket, to be at home in Australia. Then, she came back in 2017, and gradually, she was much more tranquil and steady. Even last year, you could tell that she had a tremendous variety. She was strong, fast and patient. At Roland Garros, she smoked the very young Czech, Marketa Vondrousova, 6-1 6-3, in the final. Barty went out for the first time in the final and dived in. She was perfect.

Now she is ranked No. 2, and she is very close to the top spot, right behind Naomi Osaka. After Wimbledon, both of them can be No. 1. That should be preposterous— and fun.

The great rivalry: Djokovic and Nadal face off …again

novak djokovic

FROM THE AUSTRALIAN, January 26 — There have been so many matches between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal. They have played each other 52 times, over the past 13 years. Without a doubt, there have been some great ones, some fascinating ones, and on occasion, odd ones.

Over the past 30 years, there have been a number of terrific matches, long matches, but none of them have confronted each other deep in the tournaments.

Some have played against Novak or Rafa before, but you had to go deep, in the semis or the finals, because that is where they were. Roger Federer has, and also Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka did, too — the Slam winners. But the very good ones — like Juan Martin del Potro and Mario Cilic — have made it once in a while, but not a huge amount.

Djokovic and Federer have played each other 47 times, with Novak has  25 wins and 22 losses. That is a high results, too. Nadal owns 23 wins against Federer, and the Swiss has 15 victories. One more: Djokovic has 25 wins over Murray, and 11 losses.

Obviously,  Djokovic is way up there, beating the best rivalries, but while he has won 14 majors, he still  has to tie, or pass them, eventually, with the 20-time Grand Slam champion Federer, and the 17-major winner Nadal.  

Djokovic lost plenty of matches to Nadal, but he is clearly better when on the hardcourt. The last time that the Spaniard defeated Djokovic on a hardcourt was 2013, in the US Open final. That is a long time ago now.  

If Nadal can take him out on Sunday night, then he will have to push himself.  A lot. They know each other up and down,  but in order to shove him back, he has to swing hard and physical.  He has to, because as Djokovic said, he has to jump on him early.

“I think my 1-2 punches that worked pretty well throughout this tournament. The good thing is I’m feeling really comfortable on the court hitting the ball,” Djokovic said. “I can get into the court, I can step back, I can defend. I’m comfortable doing whatever it takes. I’m going to get out there and obviously try to dictate the play. But it’s easier said than done against Nadal. Just depends how we both start. Throughout the match, I guess you’re going to have to be present and get a feel of how it evolves. Sometimes it will require to be a little bit more patience with more construction of the point, sometimes maybe to attack more. He has improved his serve. I see he has a slightly different service motion that has worked very well. With everything he possesses, all the qualities in his game, adding to that also a lot of free points on the serve makes him much tougher to play against. That’s why he managed to have a lot of success with the shorter points, because of the serve. He’s backing his first shot up with that great serve, saving energy, and then he can go for more in the return game.”

Djokovic agreed that over the years, they adjust it, and added to it. There can be bad days, but for both of them, they are amazing players. That’s why they are the best right now.

“I think it adds more maybe pressure on [Nadal’s] serve and my serve, as well, because we return well. We’ve been playing well. Yeah, it’s going to be interesting.  We can get a sense of what we are about to experience. …When you go full out emotionally, physically, mentally, you might as well enjoy it.”