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Again, new kids threaten the old guard


Rafael Nadal is one of the old guards billed for the forthcoming U.S. Open.  Julian Finney/Getty Images/AFP JULIAN FINNEY / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

A week to the fiesta in New York for the final Grand Slam of the year, the warm-up tournaments, tagged US Open Series, are yielding exciting news. This is one major tennis event in which the tune-ups are spread far and wide, albeit in two countries on the same continent.

At the end of the Montreal tournament, the back-to-back victories of Germany’s Alexander Zverev portended a replacing of the old guard. However, by the time Cincinnati tournament ended with Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov’s triumph over Australia’s Nick Kyrgios, the old matador, Rafael Nadal was back on top in the rankings for the fourth time since he first made it in 2008. Dimitrov moved up to number nine in the rankings.

In Washington DC, Alexander Zverev won straight-set matches against Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-final, Kei Nishikori in the next round and proceeded to defeat South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6/4, 6/4 in the final. Anderson had defeated the other Next Generation star, Dominic Thiem of Austria in the round of 16 by the close scores of 6/3, 6/7 (6), 7/6 (7). A week later in Montreal, the star was Canada’s Denis Shapovalova, whose upset of Rafael Nadal prevented the Spaniard of regaining the top slot in rankings if he had reached the semi-final.

Denis lost the first set but proceeded to win the second 6/4 and the third in a tiebreak that ended seven points to four. The left-handed teenager fell in straight sets in the semi-final to Zverev, who defeated Roger Federer 6/3, 6/4 to win his fourth title of the year.

Dimitrov’s victory in Cincinnati was a triumph of strategy against brute force. Nick Kyrgios had marched through the draw with a display of newly gained discipline of being patient for the right time to pull the trigger of a winner after a rally. With his booming serve, he won points on rallies lasting less than four shots.

His powerful forehand was on course to win points. In the final against Dimitrov, the Bulgarian followed a game plan to perfection. His speed and footwork enabled him reach every potential winner hit by Kyrgios. His slice backhands at reduced pace frustrated Kyrgios, who needed ball altitude above court to hit forehand winners. At the conclusion, a single break in both sets gave Dimitrov the 6/3, 7/5 victory.

Nadal’s ascendancy to number one in the world is being celebrated in Spain as if it was a victory in the Football World Cup. One obvious reason is that Nadal had gone through a lot according to his coach. At the beginning of the year, he was close to winning the Australian Open. Thereafter, he proceeded to win his 10th French Open, after dominating warm up events on clay in Madrid, Barcelona and Monte Carlo. He lost in the fourth round at Wimbledon won by close pal, Roger Federer. The erstwhile number one, Andy Murray succumbed to injury in the defense of the Grasscourt Grand Slam and has not returned to action since.

In the continued absence of Djokovic and Murray, Nadal regained the number one spot since 2014. The seeding for the US Open would reveal his new position atop the rankings. Bravo Rafa!

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