The “Banana” Arc Shot

If you spend any time watching the cream of the tennis crop, you’ll be aware that certain players have developed signature moves, or “calling cards”, to gain an advantage over the opposition.

From Andy Murray’s pitch-perfect lob to Justine Henin’s finessed volley and Ernests Gulbis’ “soaring eagle” forehand, in our weekly signature moves series we’ll run through the characteristic shots of players past and present – and explain how to replicate them on court.

The Rafael Nadal “banana shot”

“Unreal”, “incredible”, “majestic” – the list of adjectives applied to Rafael Nadal’s signature forehand is lengthy. The down-the-line “banana shot” may sound relatively simple, namely curve the ball around your opponent, but it’s incredibly difficult to get right. Nadal, with the lasso-like whip he generates on the ball, pretty much invented the ‘arc shot’ that sees the ball loop up into the air and somehow drop in thanks to obscene amounts of topspin.

Rafael Nadal’s deceptively simple technique is the result of thousands of hours of practice. Here’s the king of sidespin in action:

 

SABR Trick Shot

Turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks.

In the summer 2015, tennis fans were treated to a new maneuver by the 34-year-old tennis legend Roger Federer. It’s called the SABR and features Federer moving way up on an opponent’s second serve to hit a half-volley in an attempt to dictate pace and frustrate opponents. Whenever anyone hears about it, the first question is: What does SABR mean?

It’s an acronym:

Sneak
Attack
By
Roger

Federer used it in his dominating win in Cincinnati and utilized it during his other U.S. Open 2015 matches, with the exception of his fourth-round win over the mega-serving John Isner. The move helped him position himself after he hits a deep, chipped return and puts his opponents, like Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Richard Gasquet, off balance.

The move was inspired by one of Federer’s longtime coaches, Seve Luthi, who basically dared Roger to try it at practice. At a U.S. Open presser, Federer discussed the move’s origin:

“At the end of practice we were just kidding around almost. I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to chip and charge and just keep the points short. I’m tired. I want to get off the court soon anyway. That’s when I started to run in and hit returns. I hit a couple for a winner. They were ridiculous.

“He laughed, I laughed, Severin laughed. Then I did it again in the next practice just to see if it actually would still work again. Then I tried it the next practice and it still worked.

“That’s when Severin said, ‘Well, what about using it in a match?’ I was like, ‘Really?’ “So he pushed me to keep using it and not shy away from using it in big moments.”

Rafa & Roger At Miami Open 2017 Final

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will meet for the 37th time and in their 23rd final on Sunday as they look to be crowned Miami Open 2017 champion.

The pair have enjoyed a fabulous renaissance at the beginning of the season, while top-ranked players Sir Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic have struggled with form and fitness, and both will return to the top-five in the world after their exploits in Florida.

Federer is a two-time winner at the Masters 1000 event, while 14-time Grand Slam champion Nadal will compete in his fifth final having never lifted the title.

It promises to be a splendid spectacle, with two juggernauts of the game clashing for a third time in 2017 after not meeting once in the previous year.

Federer has had a tough route to the final, which has again highlighted just how high a level he’s playing at currently at. He impressively discarded Juan Martin del Potro in a tricky early draw, while Frances Tiafoe and Roberto Bautista Agut were also beaten on his way to the last eight.

The 35-year-old was then forced to survive two match points against a resilient Tomas Berdych before competing in one of the best matches of the year so far – a three-hour epic with Australian Nick Kyrgios.

To say Nadal’s draw has been more comfortable than Federer’s would be an understatement – he’s certainly had an easier time of it. With other dangerous seeds Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori struggling with injury, Nadal has had a relatively stress-free run to the final. The only seed the Spaniard was forced to take on was Jack Sock, who was routinely dispatched.

The pair have been the best performers thus far but it’s Federer who has truly exceeded all expectations. After taking six months away from the sport to allow full recovery from a knee injury, the Swiss maestro has roared back to ATP Tour action winning both the Australian Open and Indian Wells. His only blip to date came in a shock loss to then world No. 116 Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai but Federer is leading the Race To London and will return to No. 4 in the world with a win over Nadal.

The Spaniard’s form will also see him return to the top 5, although he’s not managed to lift a title in the opening three months of the year. He’s suffered final defeats to Federer in Melbourne and Sam Querrey in Acapulco, while his only other losses have come to the Swiss in Indian Wells and Milos Raonic in Brisbane.

While Nadal leads their overall head-to-head 23-13, the tide has certainly turned in recent times. Federer has won their last three meetings – something that had never happened at any previous point in their rivalry – and blew the 30-year-old away at Indian Wells.

I feel like there is a mountain to climb in Rafa. He’s hasn’t won this event before. He’s definitely feeling fresher than I feel right now. But that’s not a problem. I’ll be ready on Sunday.

‘It’s definitely going to be very special playing Rafa here again. I’m thrilled for him that he came back as well as he did after the comeback and the struggles that he had last year.

‘It feels like old times. We’re playing each other every week now. We can’t get enough of each other. Hopefully it’s not our last match.’

Roger Federer

‘It’s great to be in the final… For me, doesn’t matter the opponent.

‘I am happy to be in that final again, and I am excited to play another final of an important event.’

Rafael Nadal

Indian Wells ATP Masters’ March

Roger Federer edged Steve Johnson 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) in a hard-serving duel at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday, setting up a fourth-round match against Rafael Nadal.

Federer fired 12 aces – his fastest serve registering 131 mph – and never faced a break point against Johnson, who reached 136 on the radar gun and fought off all four break points against him.

Nadal advanced with a 6-3, 7-5 win against 26th-seeded Fernando Verdasco for his 50th career victory at the desert tournament, where he’s won three titles but none since 2013.

Five-time Indian Wells winner Novak Djokovic defeated 2013 finalist Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 and next faces Nick Kyrgios in the same quarter of the draw as Federer and Nadal.

”The third set was the best tennis I’ve played this year probably,” Djokovic said. ”I’m just hoping I can carry this confidence, especially on the return, to tomorrow’s match because I’m going to need that.”

On the women’s side, No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber lost to 14th-seeded Elena Vesnina 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round. Kerber is assured of retaking the No. 1 ranking from injured Serena Williams next week.

No. 9 Madison Keys was beaten by 2011 champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-4.

Federer is a four-time champion at Indian Wells who won his last title in 2012. He defeated Nadal in the Australian Open final in January for his record 18th Grand Slam title. Their meeting on Wednesday will be the earliest they have played since their first match in 2004 at Miami, where Nadal won.

”Because it’s early in the tournament, I think we both don’t quite yet know to 100 percent how everything feels,” Federer said. ”There is a bit of the unknown, which is exciting maybe for the fans to see how we’re going to try to figure that part out.”

Federer hit 32 winners against Johnson, including a forehand volley that earned him a mini-break in the first set tiebreaker. He won five of the next six points and closed out the set on Johnson’s desperate backhand lob that landed wide.

Johnson held at 6-all to force the second tiebreaker and fell behind 4-2. He broke Federer for a 4-all tie before Federer won on his second match point when Johnson netted a backhand.

”In the second set, I think he was serving almost 90 percent at one point,” Federer said. ”That’s why I changed my position on the return. I was trying to mix it up a bit.”

Nadal closed out his 1 1/2-hour, third-round match in 95-degree (35 C) heat with a forehand winner.

Nadal won 80 percent of his first-serve points and three of five break points. Verdasco, who won eight straight points for a 3-2 lead in the second set, had seven double faults.

Nadal called it unlucky that he and Federer were to play before the quarterfinals. The Spaniard leads the rivalry 23-12, including a 9-8 edge on hardcourts.

”It doesn’t matter if everybody is playing well because from our part of the draw, only one of us is going to be in that semifinals,” Nadal said. ”So that’s tough, but that’s not happening every week. Only thing we can do to avoid that is be in higher position of the ranking.”

French Open champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain planned to watch the latest chapter in the Federer-Nadal rivalry.

”I think everybody is going to watch that match,” she said. ”Everybody likes Rafa. Everybody likes Roger. It’s history over there.”

Venus Williams advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2001 with a 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Shuai Peng, the last remaining qualifier in the draw. She had 40 winners, 40 unforced errors and won the final four games of the match after trailing 3-2.

”It was so frustrating,” Williams said. ”But I feel like I got my focus more in that second set and towards the end of the third because I’m just a competitor. If things get closer, then I think my better tennis is going to come.”

Williams ended her 15-year boycott of the event last year, when she lost in the second round.

In other women’s matches, No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova advanced when 15th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky retired trailing 5-1 in the first set; Muguruza defeated No. 10 Elina Svitolina 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-0; No. 19 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova outlasted No. 5 Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; and No. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova beat 21st-seeded Caroline Garcia.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Kei Nishikori routed 25th-seeded Gilles Muller 6-2, 6-2; American Donald Young defeated 14th-seeded Lucas Pouille 6-4, 1-6, 6-3; No. 15 Nick Kyrgios beat No. 18 Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4; and Malek Jaziri got by American wild card Taylor Fritz 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

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Gritty Nadal Beats Daring Dimitrov To Face Federer In The Final — The Legendary Fedal Tennis is Back!

A standing ovation greets the players as they assume their respective positions at either end of the court. Nadal has ball in hand. He’s in control of his own destiny. Dimitrov can only hope. Nadal is three points away when Dimitrov knocks a backhand return wide. Dimitrov’s head has gone. He smacks a forehand long and it’s 30-0. Uncle Toni is encouraging his nephew from the stands. The nephew mishits a backhand. 30-15. Suddenly it’s 30-all. Dimitrov comes up with a good forehand pass. Nadal volleys. Dimitrov clips a backhand past him. Nadal thinks he’s hit an ace. It’s called out and overruled by the umpire. Dimitrov challenges. And … it’s in! Nadal finally has a match point! But it’s not over yet. Dimitrov takes control with a low forehand, then smashes confidently for deuce. But of course. Nadal earns a second match point, though, a serve down the middle forcing Dimitrov to block a spinning backhand wide. There are four hours and 54 minutes on the clock. A Nadal forehand clips the top of the net. Dimitrov thumps one into the right corner. On we go. Nadal serves wide. Dimitrov stretches and knocks a forehand long. He looks phlegmatic. A third match point, then. They rally. Nadal defends. He runs. He defends some more. And finally, mercifully, at long last, an epic semi-final draws to a close when Dimitrov sends a backhand long. That’s it. It’s all over. There was no denying the legend in the end. He’ll meet another one on Sunday. Despite the admirable Grigor Dimitrov’s best efforts, the Australian Open final will be contested between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

It will be Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer in the Australian Open final after the Spaniard withstood a gritty performance from Grigor Dimitrov to prevail 6-3, 5-7, 7-6(5), 6-7(4), 6-4 in an exhilarating contest on Friday night in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park.

It was an emotional victory for the 30-year-old Nadal, who is through to his first Grand Slam final since winning the 2014 Roland Garros crown – his 14thmajor triumph. It will be his fourth final appearance at Melbourne Park, having lifted the trophy in 2009, beating Federer in a dramatic five-set finale, and finished runner-up in 2012 (l. to Djokovic) and 2014 (l. to Wawrinka).

“It was a fantastic match. Very emotional,” said Nadal. “I think Grigor played great. I played great. So was a great quality of tennis tonight. For me, it is amazing to be through to a final of a Grand Slam again here in Australia at the start of the year. Means a lot to me. I feel the love of the people here. They give me a lot of positive energy.

“I feel very happy to be part of this match. There was a moment in the fifth set that for sure I wanted to win. I said to myself, ‘I am giving my best, I am playing very well. If I lose, that’s it. Grigor deserves it, too.’ I think both of us deserved to be in that final. It was a great fight. Finally was me. I feel lucky. I am very happy for that.”

Sunday evening on Rod Laver Arena will mark the first Nadal-Federer contest since the 2015 Basel final and their 35th battle overall. Nadal leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry 23-11, winning five of their past six meetings. It will be the first time since the 2011Roland Garros final, which Nadal won, that they have contested a Grand Slam championship.

Fedal Flowers

ao-6

The 2009 Australian Open Men’s Singles final was the championship tennis match of the Men’s Singles tournament at the 2009 Australian Open. It was contested between the world’s top two players for much of the previous four years, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, then ranked first and second in the world respectively. It was their seventh (out of eight) meeting in a Grand Slam final, but their first, and so far only one, outside of either the French Open or Wimbledon. This was Rafael Nadal’s first Grand Slam hard court final while it was Roger Federer’s ninth and at the time he was yet to lose in a Grand Slam hard court final.

Nadal defeated Federer in five sets in four hours and twenty-three minutes, with the match finishing after midnight, to become the first Spaniard, male or female, to win the Australian Open. The match was lauded as one of the greatest ever at the Australian Open and it was yet another high quality match between two of the greatest players of all time, almost seven months since their epic 2008 Wimbledon final.

The opening set took precisely one minute less than the women’s final at 58 minutes. It was not of the highest quality compared to their Wimbledon final, though the tension was immense. Everybody was watching the world No1 like a hawk, wondering if his Friday night-Saturday morning semi-final against fellow Spanish left-hander Fernando Verdasco, which lasted more than five hours, had taken away his edge. The general perception was that he was just a shade slower, though this could easily have been an optical illusion, given Federer’s languid movement. He never seems in a hurry, even when moving at maximum speed.

It was a curious opening with no fewer than five breaks of serve, Federer establishing a 4-2 lead, then contriving to lose it. Nadal was hitting some wonderful backhands, striking with a power that jolted the Swiss. Neither was serving well, though the warning bells clanged for Federer when he lost his serve for a fourth time midway through the second set. The crowd, longing to be part of history, and as much as they admired Nadal, urged Federer on and he duly responded, winning four successive games to win the second set.

Federer’s service percentage for that second set was a mere 37%. That he still managed to level the match increased the feeling that Nadal was struggling physically. After one deep run to his left, after which he pulled off a stupendous passing shot, he seemed to say something to his coach, Toni Nadal, and at the next changeover he called for the trainer to have his right thigh massaged, as if he was feeling cramp.

It was not a medical time-out, though he continued with the treatment two games later at the change of ends. At 4-4 Nadal saved three break points, and three more at 5-5. The Spaniard was clearly pushing himself to the limits, knowing it was imperative to win the third set if he were to have the chance of winning the title. It was an absorbing middle set, Nadal almost clinching it at 6-5, and then taking the tie-break as the clock passed three hours. A stunning running backhand volley by Nadal took the tie-break to 6-3, with Federer double faulting to give his rival a two sets to one lead.

Federer jumped ahead 2-0 lead at the beginning of the fourth, only for Nadal hit back and then have the Swiss at 15-40 on his serve. The French umpire over-ruled a call, only to get it wrong when Federer challenged via Hawk-Eye. He had a stern word with Maria, but Federer used his anger to lift himself, saving five break points in total for a 3-2 lead. This time it was Nadal who cracked and, just as at Wimbledon, the final entered a fifth set, though this time there was no need to worry about the light in the floodlit Rod Laver Arena.

In the fifth and final set Nadal broke for a 3-1 lead and although Federer saved two match points at 5-2, the three times Australian Open champion put one final forehand long and Nadal was the champion for the first time.

 

The Mettlesome Match Between Nadal and Verdasco

nadal-vs-verdasco-austrailian-semifinal-2009
Photo credit: BBC Sport

The men’s draw for the Australian Open has been released and it has thrown up a huge first round blockbuster between Spaniards Rafael Nadal and Fernando Verdasco.

Ahead of their showdown on Tuesday, let’s take the time to look back at the epic semi-final the two titans fought out at the 2009 Australian Open, a match which will go down as one of the most memorable in the tournament’s history.

Nadal entered the Australian Open as the four-time reigning French Open champion, reigning Wimbledon champion, reigning Olympic gold medallist and having dethroned Roger Federer as the world number one after over three years of playing second fiddle to the Swiss Maestro.

However, he also arrived Down Under on the back of a quarter-final loss to Gael Monfils in Doha, but it was not to be indicative of what he would serve up at Melbourne Park as he bid to become the first Spaniard to win the Australian Open.

In a tournament which served up 23 five-set men’s matches, Nadal won his first five matches in straight sets to reach just his second Australian Open semi-final. This included victories over Tommy Haas, Fernando Gonzalez and Gilles Simon.

Awaiting him in the semi-finals was Fernando Verdasco, whose run to his first Grand Slam semi-final included victories over future four-time runner-up Andy Murray in the fourth round and the previous year’s runner-up, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.

Nadal entered this match as the hot favourite, yielding a 6-0 head-to-head record against his older rival. Their most recent match saw Nadal hand Verdasco a 6-1, 6-0, 6-2 humiliation at the French Open eight months earlier.

The prize for the winner was a Sunday night championship showdown against Roger Federer, who defeated Andy Roddick in the first semi-final on the Thursday night. Roddick had dethroned Novak Djokovic as defending champion after the Serb surrendered his title due to heat stress in the quarter-finals.

Both Nadal and Verdasco were keen to test each other out, and so they did, over the course of five hours and 14 minutes, in what was at the time the longest Australian Open match by time (the 2012 final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal would later eclipse this record, clocking in at five hours and 53 minutes).

The first set lasted for an hour and 15 minutes and went to a tiebreak. After Nadal broke for a 4-3 lead, Verdasco would rattle off four points in a row to take the set and thus leave Nadal to lament dropping his first set for the tournament.

But the top-seeded Spaniard would hit back to take the second set 6-4, as cool conditions started to filter through Melbourne after the city had endured a third consecutive day with the temperature above 43 degrees.

Verdasco was serving at 5-4, 40-15 up before Nadal won four points in a row to level the match at one-set all, and thus avert the daunting task of having to come from two sets to love down to win a Grand Slam match for the first time since he faced that deficit against Mikhail Youzhny at Wimbledon in 2007.

The pair would then exchange four breaks of serve (two each) in the third set, and Nadal would take it by seven points to two to take a two-sets-to-one lead into the fourth set.

With the clock ticking past midnight, the fourth set again went to a tiebreak but not before Verdasco requested treatment for cramping early in the set. But it seemed to work in his favour, as he dominated the tiebreak seven points to one to take the fourth set and thus take the match to a fifth and final set.

As per the rules at Grand Slam tournaments, the final set is an advantage set (except at the US Open, where tiebreaks are also used in the final set), which means if it goes beyond 6-all, the player who is able to establish a two-game lead wins the set (and thus the match).

After more than four hours, the question was going to be who would survive the battle of the fittest. With the set on serve in the tenth game, with Verdasco serving, he fell to 0-40, thus giving Nadal three match points.

After saving five break points earlier in the set, Verdasco would save the first two match points with two swinging volley winners, before fatally double-faulting at 30-40 to finally lose the match just after 1:00am in the morning, local time.

The result would eventually send Nadal to his first ever Australian Open final, where he would defeat Roger Federer in another five-setter to win his first title at Melbourne Park.

By defeating Federer, Nadal would become the first Spaniard, male or female, to win the Australian Open, and prevent his career rival from equalling Pete Sampras’ then-record of 14 Grand Slam titles which had stood since 2002.

Federer would, however, equal that record (and complete his Grand Slam set) at the French Open later that year, with Nadal out of the way after he had been upset by Robin Soderling in the fourth round. The Swiss Maestro would later extend his Grand Slam titles tally to a men’s record 17, which has remained stalled since Wimbledon 2012.

As for Verdasco, the pain of losing a five-set match to his good friend in his first ever Grand Slam semi-final was to be eased by his elevation into the world’s top ten for the first time, where he would spend most of the next two seasons in.

 MELBOURNE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - Match statistics from Rafael
Nadal's 6-7 6-4 7-6 6-7 6-4 victory over fellow Spaniard
Fernando Verdasco in the Australian Open semi-finals on Friday.
                           Nadal            Verdasco
 1st serve percentage          74                 69
 Aces                          12                 20
 Double faults                  3                  4
 Winning % on 1st serve     92 of 128 - 72   103 of 146 - 71
 Winning % on 2nd serve     28 of 45 -  62    36 of 66 -  55
 Winners (including service)   52                 95
 Unforced errors               25                 76
 Break point conversions     4 of 20 -  20%     2 of 4  -  50%
 Net approaches             16 of 23 -  70%    33 of 51 -  65%
 Total points won             193                192
 Match duration             five hours 14 minutes