Rafael Nadal moved into position to become a dual-surface champion at the Stuttgart Open yesterday with a 6-3, 6-4 semi-final defeat of Gael Monfils.
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Victory in under 90 minutes on the newly-laid grass courts of the pre-Wimbledon event paved a path for Nadal to lift his third title in Stuttgart after winning in 2005 and 2007 when the tournament was still played on clay.
Top seed Nadal will take on surprise finalist Viktor Troicki, who battled for more than two hours to overcome Croatian second seed and US Open champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-7 (1/7), 7-6 (7/2).
Nadal owns two Wimbledon crowns and also won at Queen’s in 2008. The left-hander will be bidding for the 66th trophy of his
career but only the second this season.
Nadal came through over Monfils on the first of two match points as the French fourth seed sailed a forehand over the baseline.
Unable to find an ace in the contest, Nadal however made no double-faults and saved all four of the break points he faced as he beat Monfils for the 11th time in 13 meetings.
The win was effortless in contrast to the struggles Nadal went through in his first two matches this week, spending a combined five hours on court to win six sets.
“I’m very happy with this performance,” said the 29-year-old Spaniard. “I’m slowly improving on grass. It would be fantastic to win here, but I can only focus on the final and try to play my best.”
He added: “I was feeling better with my tennis after the first two matches this week, it is always tough to start on this surface.
“I played aggressive and did what I had to do to keep my level high. I’ve not been in a grass final since 2011 (Wimbledon, losing to Novak Djokoic). This is important for me.
“I’m enjoying being in this final and I’ll hope to be ready tomorrow.”
Serbian Troicki was overwhelmed to have done so well this week. “It’s my first grass court final and I’m really excited to have gotten here.
“It was a great match, I served very well and used my slice. The match was even most of the time but I was able to use a couple of chances to make the difference.”
The final beam was lifted into place over the Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday (10 June) as the US Open centre court moved a step closer to being covered by a retractable roof.
He was involved in one of the most dramatic finals in Roland Garros history as he pulled off a miraculous comeback from two sets down to beat his fellow Argentinean Guillermo Coria in five and lift his first and only grand slam trophy in Paris in 2004.
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Gaston Gaudio was the underdog in that final against Coria, who was the King of Clay in the era post-Gustavo Kuerten and pre-Rafa Nadal. But nerves and cramps took over Coria and Gaudio saved two match points en route to a 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 victory.
He never won another major title after that and after slipping in the rankings, he officially retired from the sport in 2011.
Sport360 caught up with Gaudio at Roland Garros last week, where he was taking part in the Legends’ event.
How does it feel when you are back at the French Open, does it feel like it’s been 11 years since you won in Paris?
Actually, no. Every time I come here, I feel like it was just a year ago. But time has passed by so fast and I have to face it. It’s been 11 years and it’s still unbelievable to me. It was the best moment of my life. And of course coming back here means a lot to me, the atmosphere is something special and the people treat me differently.
I came here with one mood and when I’m leaving the tournament I feel much happier even though nothing has happened. Some good vibes and some magic situation happens here at Roland Garros with me.
— Mohandas Menon (@mohanstatsman) June 5, 2015
The fan reaction to you here has been incredible, hasn’t it?
Yes, because it was a special final, lots of tragedy, it was kind of like a movie. A lot of things going on during the match and it made for a dramatic final. The people enjoy seeing us again playing in the Legends tournament and they’re having fun with us.
Do you ever talk to Guillermo Coria about that final?
We saw each other a few times but we don’t talk about the final. We don’t have a good relationship after a few things that happened in the past, so I don’t have the confidence to tell him ‘what happened in that final? What were you thinking about?’ But I would love to just sit down with him one day, after 20 years of the final, I don’t know when, to sit and talk to him and say ‘okay, let’s put aside our issues’ and talk about that day. Because it was a special day for him too, it changed his life and changed my life. For me, what happened that day was like an intrigue.
Isn’t it a bit surprising that after all this time things aren’t better between you?
It’s normal when you have a lot of competition between two guys, it gets difficult. But after a while you just leave it in the past and you just forget about what happened during the tour and let’s talk like two old men.
When you retired in 2011, how did you feel about your career? Do you look back and see it as a one fulfilled or do you feel you retired too early?
It was a little bit too early but at the moment I decided not to play anymore, I was 100 percent sure that I couldn’t play anymore. I was really sick of tennis, I couldn’t win a match and I was losing to everybody. I wasn’t enjoying it that much, losing to any opponent.
So at the time I decided not to play anymore, I was 100 per cent sure. Then after a while, I can imagine that maybe if I was a little bit more smooth, and a little cold in that decision, I would do it differently.
I would take it a little bit more calm, maybe not play for a while, take a rest and then come back to tennis and maybe I, got another opportunity. But there’s nothing I can do so…
Do you look at Roger Federer and David Ferrer who are well in their 30s and think ‘wow I could be playing now?’
You’re right. Now I can see all the players that were playing at my time and they’re doing so well like Ferrer and a lot of others who are doing unbelievable. And every time that I see them now in the semis at a big tournament and playing great, it feels like a little bit of ‘wow, what a shame that I didn’t continue playing’. But that’s just nonsense.
You were one of the players who never shied away from expressing their feelings regarding how tough life was on tour. That’s not very common among most players now, who tend to hide the way they feel and refuse to admit they’re going through difficult times…
I’ve been like that all my life, not only with my career in tennis, I’ve always been honest about expressing my feelings without any doubt. I just go for the point, I’m being straight and sincere. So the one who is telling you that tennis isn’t tough and you don’t suffer on the court, he’s a liar. Everybody suffers on the court, everybody suffers at their job.
Me, I was a little bit more sentimental and I expressed my feelings more than the others but it’s exactly what was happening to the others I guess. Maybe the other players could control themselves a little bit more but that is not my personality. I’m exactly the same person outside the tennis. You get closer to people that way.
What did you struggle with the most?
Most of the time in tennis you don’t play the way you want, things don’t go the way that you would like to, so you have to manage that. And that costs you a lot of anguish, and suffering, and you’re struggling losing five or six times in the first rounds in a row and you’re always worried about the ranking and the pressure of the media and the pressure of the sponsors. There are a few things that make you feel a bit uncomfortable sometimes.
What have you been up to since retiring?
I’ve been living my life the way I want to. Enjoying life, doing the stuff that I like, snowboarding and all that stuff that I love, being with my family, with my friends, travelling around like a tourist…
And I started working on the radio, and I really like it, we go with four friends and we talk about life. And I’m starting on TV but just a little bit, I don’t want to be in the same place at the same hour every day, not anymore.
Have you considered coaching?
There’s always the opportunity to do that. Maybe I was sick of tennis for a while so I wanted to take a break, rest a little bit, take my time to decide that. But it has to be a good opportunity, a good player, it has to motivate me and I have to get really involved with a person. I would love to be the coach of a player that has got a great personality so we can get along.
Do you have any friends from tour who you’re still in touch with now?
Mariano Zabaleta, he’s still one of my best friends, Juan Ignacio Chela was a good friend of mine, Carlos Moya, Nicolas Lapentti, Juan Carlos Ferrero… a few players who I’m still in touch with.