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8:52PM

More like Indian Wells: Good weather, Roger and Rafa

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — That was more like it. Indian Wells, the elite suburb of Palm Springs — which is pretty elite its ownself — was what we expect this time of year, beautiful weather. And Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also were what we expect this time of year, playing beautiful tennis.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

9:52PM

Indian Wells: No. 2 (Rafa) rolls; No. 1 (Djokovic) does not

By Art Spander
For Maven Sports

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal was sitting there after a win trying to explain a defeat. That’s the way it is in tennis. Maybe in all sports.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven 

2:56PM

Rafa and Thiem: 4 hours and 49 minutes in the Twilight Zone

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — The Yankees game against the A’s had ended about 45 minutes earlier. And that was in Oakland.

In New York, three time zones — and one twilight zone — to the east, they were still playing tennis.

Well, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem were still playing tennis. You’ve heard of breakfast at Wimbledon. This was insomnia at Flushing Meadows.

Nadal, 32, the world's No. 1, would win, defeating Thiem, who is a solid No. 9, in a bizarre five-set quarterfinal, 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7, 7-6 (5), on Tuesday evening. Actually, on Wednesday morning, since the final point was at 2:03 a.m.

Nadal was resilient. So, too, were the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium who stayed until the end.

You know the line from that Kander and Ebb song, popularized by the great Frank Sinatra, about waking up in the city that never sleeps. How about holding America’s tennis championship, the U.S. Open, in the wee small hours — to quote another song by Sinatra?

Officials and ESPN, which to its credit stayed with the match the full 4 hours and 49 minutes, love these late matches, as much for the attention as anything. Let’s see what’s on the tube. Oh, yeah, another John Wayne rerun. And, what’s this, a Rafael Nadal forehand?

Weary and sweaty — it was in the high 70s when the match started and headed back to the 90s Wednesday afternoon — Nadal, in a sleeveless shirt, stretched his arms at 90-degree angles in triumph. If some saw a religious connotation, that’s their choice.

Nadal’s choice is to play quicker. Then again, he was the one who staggered through the first set, which he “bageled,” to use the pros' term, a big zero, 6-0 for Thiem.

“After the first set,” Nadal said, “the match became normal.”

Not that there’s anything in sports happening after midnight to which the word “normal” can be applied.

When Nadal was told that besides his 17 Grand Slams, second to the 20 of Roger Federer — who didn’t win his late-night match Monday — the after-dark match would be another sort of record. His response was what one might expect at that hour, a smile.

“What is important about this match is the level of tennis,” he said, “the drama. When the things happen like this, the atmosphere and the crowd become more special. People get involved.

“Yeah, it has been great match, great atmosphere. Happy to be part of it. Not because it’s 3 in the morning (when he did his interview), I am happy about the ending.”

Thiem, a 25-year-old Austrian (yes, as in The Sound of Music and skiing), was not that unhappy. He went against one of the best and only lost in a fifth-set tiebreak.

“My earliest memory of Rafa,” said Thiem, “was when he beat Roger (Federer) in the French semis in 2005, I was 11 back then. Didn’t really think that I would also play him one day, but it’s very nice.”

Nadal’s win was not unappreciated by the tennis people. The Open is a one-of-a-kind event, with the late matches, the party atmosphere, the huge crowds that some days surpass 70,000.

The Open is New York in the extreme. Still, the top names — Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Federer and Nadal — are necessary for TV ratings and headlines.

The Yankees, the most important team in this town, are trying to get to the postseason. The New York football Giants and the rest of the NFL teams are about to start the season. There’s only so much space in the papers — the Post had a full story on Nadal-Thiem Wednesday morning — so second-raters get squeezed out.

Nadal, on the A-list, fortunately, squeezed in.

“I played a lot of long and tough matches in my career,” said Nadal. “This is one more. I like this feeling, but at the same time you feel tired. I lost at Wimbledon in a match like this. Today was for me.

“It’s just that someone has to lose. That’s part of the game. But personal satisfaction, when you give everything and you play with the right attitude, is the same ... Tennis is not forever, but you know the chances to play these kind of matches every time are less and less.”

He had the chance and did something with it.

9:38PM

Tennis Open is anything but a nightmare

By Art Spander

NEW YORK — Headline on the New York Post web site: “US Open’s week 1 has been a nightmare.” That’s the trouble with those tabloids, always understating the situation.

Nightmares are for Elm Street, not tennis tournaments. Nobody’s awakened screaming here. Just confused. Or angry. Or sweating. Or bewildered.

In other words, it’s a normal Open. The weather is oppressive, the players obsessive and the fans impressive. Hey, it was after 1 a.m. on Thursday, a qualifier, Karolina Muchova was beating Garbine Muguruza and there were people in the stands.

But this is the city that never sleeps, the place, we’re told, that if you can make it here you can make it anywhere. Whether that includes beleaguered tennis umpire Mohamed Lahyani is problematical, although he was back in the chair Friday on Court 13 to officiate a men’s doubles match.

The problem was that Lahyani got out of his chair Thursday and gave what appeared to be a pep talk to the slightly imbalanced Nick Kyrgios because Kyrgios seemingly was not trying in his match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The USTA announced on Friday that the well-respected Lahyani wouldn’t be suspended.

Think of an NFL referee giving advice to Tom Brady in the second quarter of the Super Bowl. But this is tennis, where women change shirts on court and players are allowed “bathroom breaks.”

For a while Friday, it appeared Rafael Nadal, the defending men’s champion, needed a break of a different sort. He lost the first set and was two games down in the second to Karen Khachanov of Russia. But there was no nightmare for Nadal, or for tournament sponsors who wouldn’t want to lose a top name in the first week.

This Open began with temperatures in the mid-90s, which brought grumbling — as we’ve heard forever, everybody complains about the weather but nobody does anything about it — and then evolved into a question of the competency of an official.

Among all this, Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic kept winning, Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki lost and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, were destined to play Friday night in a third-round match they didn’t want but the public certainly did. The American men, other than John Isner, couldn’t make it out of the first week, Sam Querrey inexplicably losing in the first round, Tennys Sandgren, Francis Tiafoe and Steve Johnson losing on Thursday, and Taylor Fritz losing on Friday in the third.

Fritz is known as the e-sports champion of the locker room, which is not exactly the champion of the court, but you can’t have everything,

What the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam event of every year, has is its own personality. Some players dislike the atmosphere. Others say they enjoy the carnival approach, the distractions and no less the attention gained in competing where every day and night there are more than 50,000 spectators.

Federer, winner of 20 Slams including five Opens, says he embraces the Open, where the fans embrace him. He likes playing at night in 23,000-seat Ashe Stadium when the temperature drops and a tennis tournament becomes another off-Broadway hit in New York.

Nightrmare? For Roger, the Open is dream.

1:23PM

Nadal takes the time, and plan, best for him

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — So you say, let’s go straight to the men’s final, Roger vs. Rafa, and do away with the prelims and more importantly the questions?

What, and miss out on all those great forehands and pointed comments?

Roger Federer, of course, breezed through his first-round Wimbledon match Monday, then Rafael Nadal did the same on Tuesday, defeating Dudi Sela of Israel, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.

“I did a lot of games good with my serve,” said Nadal, who as a Spaniard can be excused for an occasional double fault with the King’s English. As, presumably, he will excuse the journalists for asking him everything from the irrelevant to the irreverent.

The scribes didn’t necessarily do a lot of bad things, more a few stupid things, or unneeded things, tossing at him questions that would have sent a diplomatic guy like Bill Belichick away in anger but simply left the 32-year-old Nadal bewildered.

Three weeks ago, Nadal won the French Open, Roland Garros, for an 11th time. But that’s played on clay, and Wimbledon is on grass. There are several run-up events on grass, in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands. Nadal didn’t enter one.

And why not, he was asked.

“Because if I play too much,” said the perceptive Nadal, “then I come here, all the questions are: Why you not play less? Now I play less and the question is: Why you are not playing?’“

It turned out he was playing with us.

“I am just joking,” he added.

As earlier in this first week of the Championships did a former three-time champ from the mid-1980s, Boris Becker. Now 50, Becker returns to Wimbledon each summer to work as a color commentator for the BBC.

According to The Guardian, Becker both swore at the BBC’s Sue Barker and stole a joke from nine-time champion Martina Navratilova, who also gets behind the microphones at Grand Slam events.

Becker, who is German, has declared bankruptcy and also been involved in a dispute with the Central African Republic over the validity of a diplomatic passport the country gave him. “He just wanted diplomatic immunity,” said Navratilova, “so he wouldn’t have to wait at customs.”

We’ll have to wait for that possible match between Nadal, the No. 2 seed, and Federer, the defending champ and No. 1 seed.

Tennis, as baseball used to be, is a sport without a clock — and in truth, baseball still can go for hours, depending on the action or lack of it. Now Wimbledon may rule that a player must not take longer than 25 seconds to serve after the previous point.

“Personally,” said Nadal, “I don’t feel that’s going to bother me in terms of the sport. It you want to see a quick game without thinking, well done. If you want to keep playing in a sport you need to think, you need to play with more tactics, you want to have long and good rallies. Then you are going the wrong way.

“But seems like sometimes is only about the business. So I cannot support this, because I don’t feel the matches that stay for the history of our sport went that quick. All the matches that have been important in the history of our sport have been four hours, five hours.”

One of those was 10 years ago, 2008, when Nadal, in a 4-hour, 48-minute match that was decided 9-7 in the fifth set, outlasted Federer in what was the longest — and arguably, the greatest — Wimbledon final in history.

Think anyone that day was saying tennis needs a clock? It they wanted anything, it was a rematch. It isn’t speed that matters, it’s quality.

“To play these matches, you need time between points,” said Nadal, “because you cannot play points in a row with long rallies, with emotional points, having only 25 seconds between points.”

Great sport, whether it lasts minutes or hours, is timeless.