Is Rafa back on track? Pliskova adds further spice to the WTA.

Is the worry over for Nadal now? A first clay-court title of the season could not have come at a better time, that’s for sure. It is the best Rafa has played during this clay court swing, almost back to the Rafa of old some might say. 6/0 6/1 against Chardy, 6/1 6/0 over Nikoloz Basilashvili, 6/4 6/0 over Nando Verdasco and 6/3 6/4 (and revenge) over Stefanos Tstisipas in the semis. Like a lot of the field, Nadal beat Chardy and Basilashvili on the same day due to the inclement weather in Rome. To drop just two games in those four sets, it shows a level though, doesn’t it?

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To say Roland Garros is looking its annual certainty for the Spaniard, would still be untrue though. Yes, he beat Djokovic in the final and that is a big deal, especially when you consider the recent head-to-head. Nole was suffering from the two weeks of tennis though and more specifically the amount of tennis he had played since Thursday. Two rounds on that day and then two big three-setters against Delpo and Schwartzman in the following two days. The last two matches lasted over six hours in total and match points were saved against Delpo. Not ideal prep for a matchup against a rejuvenated Rafa. The lack of battery that Nole had left is probably best summed up by the 6/0 4/6 6/1 scoreline. However, there is no denying Nadal has hit the front at the right time.

It was great to see Diego Schwartzman back in some form by making the semis. Straight sets wins over Matteo Berrettini and Kei Nishikori read well and taking Djokovic all the way in the semis was further proof the Argentinian was in good form in Italy. Stefanos Tsitsipas backed up his final in Madrid, with a last four spot here and did all he could against Nadal, but the Spaniard was on top throughout.

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Del Potro seems to have settled straight back in at the top, what a good week this was for him, making the last four. If only he could have that forehand back against Nole on match point! Dominic Thiem lost to Fernando Verdasco and had a right moan up after about the tournament schedule, which seemed pretty justified. There were a couple of expletives in his statement, so well played there Dom. The Fed-Express got a few more matches under his belt and saved match points against Borna Coric. I think it is mission accomplished so far for Federer on clay, he will have got what he wants out of it. Federer gave Tsistsipas a walkover with a right leg injury in the quarters. As for Sascha Zverev, he lost to Matteo Berrettini, which was a really nasty matchup straight away in Italy.

 

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Karolina Pliskova landing the title in Italy shows just how wide open the game is at the moment on the WTA tour.  I know she is fourth seed but if it was done by surface her ranking would not have been so high, that much is certain. Now though??? Her level over the second half of the week was good enough to win in conditions that I thought would be too slow for her. She ended Vika’s run in the last eight and (another) dream week for Sakkari in the last four. It wasn’t entirely convincing earlier in the week against Tomljanovic or Kenin but it was good enough. She played another surprise finalist on Saturday.

That is because there were more encouraging signs for Jo Konta here, as she stuck at it and there were also some big wins. Sloane, Venus, Vondrousova and Bertens all fell to the Brit. She actually says as a junior she had her best results on clay and that her form on the surface on the main tour is more of an issue for the media. She has always believed. Pliskova obviously denied her in the final but fair play Jo, good effort.

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Elina Svitolina went into Rome on a ten-match winning streak in Italy. The Champion of the past two years was sent packing by Vika Azarenka from 5/2 up in the decider though in her opening match. Her form remains ‘iffy’ since the knee problems. Kiki Bertens was always going to be struggling to get back to back wins, having come into this as champion in Madrid. She did go tournament favourite when she reached the last four but Jo Konta stayed on strong in the decider to end her chances.

Serena made her comeback with a cameo against Rebecca Peterson and then withdrew well before her scheduled third-round match with Venus. She put in a decent performance against the Swede in a 6/4 6/2 victory, but the knee injury that has kept her out of late was the reason for the walkover against V. I am hoping it is just precautionary and it was good to hear she was practicing down on the Chatrier and the Simonne-Mathieu on Monday at RG. I would obviously ‘take’ Paris without a doubt but Wimbledon is, as usual, the one I am focusing on. Come On Rena!

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For the other top candidates, it went a bit like this. Osaka withdrew in the quarter’s with a thumb injury, then it was Kvitova that retired at 0/4 in the decider against Sakkari and Simona Halep lost to Vondrousova, again. The Romanian was running on empty towards the end. Sakkari continued her top form and Pavlyuchenkova, Kontaveit, Kvitova and a back inform Kristina Mladenovic are all good wins. Oh, this was after getting through qualies too. Mladenovic is starting to operate a bit again. Caroline Garcia, Belinda Bencic and Ash Barty were her scalps. Not bad!

Andy Del Potro

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