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‘I have never felt a ball as heavy as that of Rafael Nadal’, says former French ace

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As early as 2005, Rafael Nadal was one of the most promising players in the ATP tour. The Spanish champion had won his first Roland Garros and would soon have won several ATP titles. The Majorcan, who was considered a huge red clay specialist, had been forced to skip the Australian Open in early 2006 due to a foot injury.

Rafa

The former World number 1 had quickly redeemed himself on his beloved clay court, where he had defeated Roger Federer in the Monte Carlo final and Tommy Robredo in Barcelona. Nadal did not let Federer escape even in Rome and Roland Garros, breaking the record of 53 consecutive victories of Guillermo Vilas on red clay.

During that edition of the Parisian Slam, many fans will remember the exciting battle with the host Paul-Henri Mathieu that lasted almost five hours in the third round. During an interview with ‘We Are Tennis France’, Mathieu spoke about that afternoon on the Philippe Chatrier.

“On clay, I have never felt a ball as heavy as that of Rafael Nadal in the racket. Forehand, it is indescribable, one has the impression of having a truck which arrives at 200 km / h,” Paul-Henri Mathieu said.

“To give an idea, if you don’t anticipate the rebound, you have no chance of controlling the ball,” he added. Nadal has been the most successful player in history on clay courts. He has a 59–8 record in clay court tournament finals and has lost only twice in best-of-five-set matches on clay.

Rafa in action

He has won 12 French Open titles (12–0 in French Open finals), 11 Monte-Carlo Masters and 9 Rome Masters, and won at least one of the three clay-court Masters Series tournaments every year between 2005 and 2014. His 9th Roland Garros crown in 2014 made him the first man in the Open Era to win the same tournament 9 times, breaking a 32-year record held by Guillermo Vilas, who won the Buenos Aires title 8 times, the last being in 1982.

He is the only male player to win the French Open and the US Open in the same year four times (2010, 2013, 2017, 2019). Ivan Lendl (1986,1987) and Rod Laver (1962,1969) attained this twice. Nadal has a stand-alone record of 35 ATP Masters 1000 titles, 51 finals and 72 semifinals.

Because of these many accomplishments, as well as his career winning record (60%) against Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal is considered by some sports analysts and players to be the greatest male tennis player of all time.

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Djokovic Earns Tricky Opening Win In Vienna

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In his first appearance at the Erste Bank Open since his 2007 title run, Novak Djokovic passed an early test to defeat countryman Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3 on Tuesday.

Djokovic dropped serve twice in the first set and was forced to save set point at 5/6, before coming back to earn his place in the second round. The World No. 1, who struck 39 winners against Krajinovic, has now won 38 of his 40 matches this year.

“I was lucky in the first set… We are good friends, we train a lot [together] and it is never easy to play someone that you are very close to,” said Djokovic in an on-court interview. “He is a very nice guy and I have known him since he was very young. I followed him, I tried to be there as a friend, as a mentor. We go back a long way.

”We practised a few times [together] before coming to Vienna. The draw was tough for us to face each other, but there is always extra pressure and importance to a match when you play someone that you know very well.”

Djokovic added 45 FedEx ATP Rankings points to his tally with his second ATP Head2Head victory in three matches against Krajinovic. The Serbian is attempting to tie Pete Sampras’ record of six year-end World No. 1 finishes this year.

Djokovic was competing for the first time since his runner-up finish at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal). The 33-year-old will next face Borna Coric for a place in the quarter-finals.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against Coric. The pair most recently met in the 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters final, which Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4. Coric earned his place in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Taylor Fritz on Monday.

In a first set that featured four service breaks, Djokovic and Krajinovic entertained the crowd in Vienna with their all-court skills and attacking tennis. Krajinovic took the initiative and hit his targets to earn set point at 6/5 in the tie-break, but Djokovic held firm with consistency from the baseline to extract crucial errors and earn a one-set lead.

Djokovic raised his game in the second set and earned an early break to take control of the match. The 2007 champion returned with depth and attacked with his forehand to close the match in just under two hours.

“[In the] first set, I think he was the better player. He was serving for the first set and I was lucky. He missed a smash at 6/6 in the tie-break,” said Djokovic. “A few points here and there can change the momentum of the match. In the second set, I stepped it up, I played better and I am just pleased with the way I finished the match.”

Grigor Dimitrov advanced to the second round in Vienna for the second straight year with a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory against Karen Khachanov. The Bulgarian converted three of four break points against the two-time Vienna quarter-finalist to improve to 17-10 in 2020.

“Karen is such an excellent player, such a heavy hitter,” said Dimitrov in an on-court interview. “In conditions like that, the court favours him quite a bit but I was able to just play a very solid game and take the right decisions at the right time.”

Hubert Hurkacz broke serve on four occasions to beat Attila Balazs of Hungary 6-3, 7-5. The 23-year-old will face Dusan Lajovic or Lorenzo Sonego for a place in the quarter-finals.

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