Swiatek and Rublev prevail, Nadal bids farewell to the Madrid Open

r1329431 1296x729 16 9

Women’s tennis has been criticized in recent years for its lack of true rivalries and constant changeover at the top of the rankings. But over the past two seasons, a strong group of elite players has emerged.

And that was even more evident on Saturday, after a truly epic Madrid Open final between world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, cementing their collective dominance in the sport and their ability to bring out the best in one another’s games.

In a rematch of the 2023 final, the two battled and pushed one another to the brink for well over three hours, trading winners and celebratory screams, and ultimately needing a third-set tiebreak to determine the champion. Swiatek, the three-time French Open champion, took the first set, but Sabalenka — who won last year’s title — stormed back to force a decider.

And what followed in the final set was a pure battle of wills and jaw-dropping moments with neither player ready to concede.

With Sabalenka just seconds away from successfully defending her title, Swiatek saved two match points at 5-6 in the third set and ultimately forced the tiebreak. Facing yet another match point in the breaker, Swiatek found a way to remain in the match and then win 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (7). When it was finally over, Swiatek collapsed onto the ground in what appeared to be a mix of elation and relief. She later called it the “most intense and crazy final” she had ever played.

“Who is going to say that women’s tennis is boring now, right?” Swiatek said moments later in an on-court interview. “Congrats as well to Aryna because we both had an amazing effort today.”

The victory marked the 20th career title for the 22-year-old Swiatek. She is the youngest WTA player to achieve the milestone since Caroline Wozniacki in 2012, and the first player — male or female — born in this millennium to do so. Swiatek has now won nine 1000-level titles, trailing just Victoria Azarenka for most among active players. Saturday also gave Swiatek a 7-3 career edge over Sabalenka — but it seems certain we’ll see much more of this rivalry.

Here’s what else you might have missed from Madrid and around the tennis world last week:

Rublev’s renaissance

Andrey Rublev arrived in Madrid on a four-match losing streak, without a win on clay this season. He struggled with symptoms from an illness as the tournament got underway, later saying it made him “almost dead every day,” and he was unable to sleep.

Despite everything, the 26-year-old played his best tennis of the season in Madrid, beating three seeded players en route to the final, including in a comeback against No. 2 seed Carlos Alcaraz 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the quarterfinals. On Sunday in the final, he rallied yet again after dropping the first set for a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime. Like Swiatek, he fell to the ground in celebration at the match’s conclusion.

It was the 16th ATP title for Rublev, and second of 2024 and at the Masters 1000-level. But while winning certainly isn’t new for him, he said Madrid was the “most proud title” of his career.

“I have no words,” Rublev said. “If you knew what I had been through in the past nine days you would not imagine that I would be able to win a title.”

With the win, Rublev improved two spots in the rankings and is now at No. 6.

New doubles teams, who dis?

Entering Madrid, Sebastian Korda and Jordan Thompson had never shared the court at an ATP event. Never in singles, and certainly never as a doubles team. But the American-Australian pair won the title together.

The two used one of the ATP’s newly created spots in the doubles draws for primarily singles players and rolled through the draw. They recorded impressive wins over more-established teams, including Jamie Murray and Michael Venus in the semifinals. On Saturday, Korda and Thompson defeated Ariel Behar and Adam Pavlasek 6-3, 7-6 (7) for the first 1000-level trophy for either player. It marked Thompson’s sixth ATP doubles title, but the first for Korda and his second overall title on tour.

According to Thompson, he wasn’t even sure if he was going to be able to play after injuring himself in practice ahead of the final, but ultimately decided he was OK.

“He hit too good of a return and I just smoked myself in the head,” Thompson said. “I thought I was heading for the ER. It wasn’t that bad. A bit of a headache, but not bad. [The trophy] will help smooth things out.”

Clearly happy with how things went in their debut, the two are slated to play together again in Rome this week.

On the women’s side, Cristina Bucsa and Sara Sorribes Tormo also played together for the first time — signing up for the draw just 15 minutes before the deadline closed because both of their regular partners were unavailable — and emerged victorious.

In the final on Sunday, the pair defeated Barbora Krejcikova and Laura Siegemund 6-0, 6-2, and became the first Spanish women in the tournament’s history to win the doubles title.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” Bucsa said about their accomplishment. “I didn’t expect that. I didn’t know that we can make history, but finally, the wish came true.”

Adios, Rafa

After winning his first three matches — including against Alex de Minaur in the second round for his first top-20 victory since 2022 — Rafael Nadal was defeated in the Round of 16 in Madrid. And while the final result was obviously not what he had wanted during his presumed final appearance at the tournament in his home country, Nadal was still given the ultimate hero’s farewell after his loss to Jiri Lehecka in straight sets.

Nadal, a five-time Madrid champion, was presented with a trophy, commemorating all he had achieved at the tournament during his career, and a series of banners were unfurled from the rafters. A tribute video was shown. He then addressed the crowd — which included his wife and their young son, as well as his parents and sister — and everyone in attendance stood on their feet.

“All I can say is that I’m grateful,” Nadal said in Spanish. “It’s been an incredible journey that started when I was very small … Since I first played until now there’s been nothing but unconditional love and support from everyone here in Madrid. All I can say is thank you, and I’m very, very grateful.”

And perhaps no moment was more emotional than when he left the court as the crowd cheered him one last time.

Nadal is next slated to play this week at the Italian Open, before playing at the French Open later this month.

Au revoir, Alize

Nadal isn’t the only player who will be making his final appearance at the French Open this year. Alize Cornet, a six-time champion on the WTA Tour, announced she would be retiring from the sport following Roland Garros — 19 years after making her major debut at the event.

The 34-year-old French woman holds the record for most consecutive Grand Slam appearances (68) and reached her first — and potentially only — major quarterfinals at the 2022 Australian Open in her 63rd Grand Slam. She is well known for her giant-slaying upsets, including over then-No. 1 Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2014, and against No. 1 Swiatek in 2022, ending Swiatek’s 37-match win streak that year.

Cornet first revealed her decision to walk away from tennis in an interview in French with CANAL+, but later took to social media with a video in English.

“Somehow it’s been really complicated to play with this in the back of my mind for the past few months, because even though I feel like the time is right and I couldn’t dream of a better way to say goodbye, my heart feels heavy of leaving 19 years of my life behind me,” Cornet said. “But I also know that many exciting things are ahead of me and that I will be able to turn that page, knowing that I gave everything to my sport from the very beginning to the very end. I am proud of this, and I hope you guys will miss me a little bit. I will definitely miss you.”

Yet another goodbye

And while he won’t be walking away quite as soon, former world No. 8 Diego Schwartzman also just announced his impending retirement. On Sunday, the 31-year-old said 2024 would be his final full season on tour, and that he was planning on playing in his final event in his native Argentina in February.

“Every corner of the court, every second training, every point competing, every moment I was immensely happy,” Schwartzman, a 2020 French Open semifinalist, wrote in a lengthy Instagram post. “I lived it so intensely that today it’s hard for me to keep up. All those beautiful moments have become something that carries weight today and I find it hard to keep enjoying fully … Inside me, a competitive animal prevents me from enjoying, playing and traveling like I used to. I want my last tournaments to be my own decision.”

Schwartzman has four career titles, most recently at the Argentina Open in 2021, but he has struggled recently and hasn’t won a tour-level match this season. He is currently ranked No. 142 in the world.

Another honor for Billie Jean King

At this point in her legendary life and career, there’s very little that Billie Jean King hasn’t done. She won 39 total major titles, including 12 in singles, been perhaps the most vocal advocate for gender pay equity in sports and been given just about every award and distinction one could win. However, it turns out there was something she hadn’t yet done.

On Thursday, it was announced that the 80-year-old would be appearing on the cover of a limited-edition Wheaties box.

“Having dedicated my life to fighting for equality and changing the face and future of women’s sports, being one of the Wheaties champions is a dream come true,” King said in a video posted on social media. “It is truly an honor to be recognized for my work on and off the tennis court.”

Five stars for this review

Retired German tennis player and tennis analyst Andrea Petkovic wrote a candid, and often hilarious, review of “Challengers,” the new Zendaya-led tennis movie, for The Guardian.

Petkovic, the former world No. 9 who retired in 2022, admitted she was nervous before watching the movie and was traumatized by previous attempts at tennis movies (see: “Wimbledon”). But she “loved” the film and was impressed by how many tennis-specific details it got right.

“I have always liked [director Luca] Guadagnino’s movies and I was worried when I heard he was set on making a tennis one,” Petkovic wrote. “But he has pulled it off. I would venture as far as to call it genius. Only people who have spent decades around tennis, whether as a player or coach, an official or a fan, know the secrets the sport reveals when you’re crazy enough to stick with it. Every win comes with a loss and every loss comes with a win…

“It’s not the best movie I have ever seen. But it is the best tennis movie. Maybe even the best sports movie. Sorry, Moneyball.”

If that doesn’t convince you to see it, perhaps nothing will.

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top