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10:48PM

Another Federer masterpiece at the theater of Wimbledon

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — This is his stage, if not quite his masterpiece theater then his theater of masterpieces, Wimbledon, Centre Court.

Others have made appearances, but somehow as Friday, invariably the place is Roger Federer’s.

Rafael Nadal, a bit younger, seemingly a bit stronger, was supposed to win that semifinal, wasn’t he? But when the guy on the other side of the net is Roger Federer, and the match is at Wimbledon, as we learned again, predictions go wrong.

Federer took Nadal out of his game and with a 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory took himself into a Wimbledon final for a 12th time. He’s won eight of those finals and Sunday has the opportunity make it nine.

His opponent will be Novak Djokovic, the defending champion, the top player in the ATP rankings and a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 winner over Roberto Bautista Agut in the other semi.

“It will be difficult,” said Federer. “He’s not No. 1 by chance. But I’m very excited.”

As were the screaming fans at Wimbledon, whether in the high-priced seats where, like Lakers and Warriors games back in the states, royalty gathers — there figurative, here genuine — and up on “Henman Hill,” where the masses watch on giant screen TV, the action happening a few yards away.

Federer may be Swiss, but the Brits have come to embrace him because of the classy, graceful way he’s performed at the their tournament, the world’s oldest, the All-England Lawn Tennis championships.

He is 37, almost 38, but the elegantly way he plays, those one-handed backhands, those huge serves — he opened with an ace — is ageless. “I’m exhausted,” he told the BBC, moments after leaving the court.

Just four sets and just 3 hours and 2 minutes, compared to that five-set, 4 hour and 48 minute epic final between Roger and Rafa in 2008, but he was 11 years younger.

And of course, he had 11 fewer years experience.

“It was tough at the end,” said Federer of Nadal almost forcing a fifth set. “He played some unbelievable shots in the match. I think the match was played at a very high level.”

Which one would suppose when the two of the three players acknowledged to be the best of their era go at it, Federer with his 20 Grand Slam victories, the 33-year-old Nadal with his 18.

“The first set was huge,” said Federer. Indeed, Federer had won only two of the previous 18 matches when Nadal took the first set. Now, overall, against each other, Nadal has 25 wins, Federer 16.

To Nadal, the outcome could be explained easily. “I think his return (game) was better than my one,” he said.

As you know, Rafa, a Spaniard who came to English after he came to the tennis tour, sometimes has problems with the language. That bothers him less than the problems he had with Federer. And with his own game. “I didn’t receive well,” said Nadal, meaning returning serve, not going out for a sideline pass.

“When that happens,” Nadal said, “(Federer’s) at an advantage. He’s in control of the match because you feel a little bit more under pressure than him.”

Rafa had problems with his own backhand. Those could be overcome against most players, but not against the other members of the Big Three, Federer or Djokovic.

“I was a little bit too worried about the backhand,” said Nadal, sounding very much like a weekend muni court player, “so I was not able to move with the freedom in the forehand. When that happens against a player like him, is so difficult.”

As the years pass, to Federer and to the public, each victory in a Grand Slam becomes bigger and bigger. When he didn’t even make the semis in 2018, the talk was he was in full decline. So much for talk.

"Yeah, I mean, obviously extremely high,” Federer said when asked where the win ranks among the dozens he’s earned. “It's always very, very cool to play against Rafa here, especially when I haven't played in so long. It lived up to the hype, especially from coming out of the gates; we were both playing very well. Then the climax at the end with the crazy last game, some tough rallies there.

“But it's definitely, definitely going to go down as one of my favorite matches to look back at, again, because it's Rafa, it's at Wimbledon, the crowds were into it, great weather.”

What else need be said?

6:57PM

Wimbledon: Heat, Rafa and a Yankees sideshow

By Art Spander

WIMBLEDON, England — So it was 91 degrees Saturday. Rafa Nadal was grousing about the Wimbledon seeding, which is not unusual, and 12 miles away the Yankees were playing the Red Sox, which is not only unusual but unprecedented.

Read the full story here.

Copyright 2019, The Maven

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.