Monday, October 24, 2005
Nadal knows a repeat year nearly impossible
By Bonnie DeSimone Special to ESPN.com
Rafael Nadal was clock watching when he talked to reporters after winning his 11th ATP title and fourth Masters Series championship of the year in Madrid Sunday.
After prevailing in a five-set, nearly four-hour match, Nadal knew he'd probably already blown his chance of making the kickoff of that night's Real Madrid-Valencia soccer match. But the 19-year-old Spanish sensation still found time to reflect after defeating hard-serving Croatian Ivan Ljubicic 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
This week, No. 28 Tim Henman will face fellow Brit Andy Murray for the first time.
"I think this year is almost impossible to repeat," said the world No. 2 and French Open champion, who added Madrid to 2005 Masters Series wins in Montreal, Monte Carlo and Rome. "I'm going to start next year in high spirits, but without pressure, because this has been an incredible year, a year to remember, to keep at home like a picture you hang on the wall.
"Elsewhere in the world, it would have been impossible to beat Ljubicic," Nadal added, crediting a boisterously supportive crowd for helping him climb out of a two-set hole to win his first indoor hard-court title. "I couldn't even see the ball."
The No. 11 Ljubicic, who carried a 16-match win streak into the encounter, served up 32 aces.
Nadal accomplished all this without his famous "piratas" -- his term for the midcalf pants he wore on the men's tour this year. Nadal wore more standard knee-length shorts and said he just wanted to see how they felt again. Given the way he's playing, some of his rivals may have trouble believing that he puts them on one leg at a time.
Bring it on
No. 3 Andy Roddick, who lost to Croatia's Ivo Karlovic in the second round in Madrid, said he welcomes the imminent introduction of electronic line-calling technology.
"If it's there, why not use it?" he said. "First of all, you wouldn't leave a match thinking, 'OK, what if they would have not gotten that wrong?' Secondly, I think it would add something to tennis. Can you imagine if you had a flag in your bag or something that you could throw for an instant replay once a set or twice a set? It would add a whole other element of excitement to it.
"Umpires get nervous just like we do. You just take out the element of human error."
In World Team Tennis, where the Hawk-Eye officiating system was used this season, coaches throw a beanbag with streamers called "the squid" onto the court when they want to challenge a call. WTT coaches are limited to three challenges per match, but ATP spokesman David Higdon said last week that the tour was considering allowing unlimited challenges if the technology debuts next year as expected.
Roddick mused about having a system similar to WTT's, saying he liked the idea of adding an extra layer of strategy.
"Let's say somebody cries too much, uses their two challenges, then has a ball that they can't challenge," he said. "It's their own fault. They shot themselves in the foot. I think it would be fun."
Wild United Kingdom
It's a dream match for the British sports media. Perennial flagbearer Tim Henman, 31, and upstart 18-year-old Scot Andy Murray, who has been billed as Henman's successor for the unenviable role of Repository of the Nation's Hopes, will play one another for the first time Wednesday in the first round of the Davidoff Swiss Indoors tournament in Basel, Switzerland.
Murray's celebrity status was confirmed last week when soccer superstar and tennis fan David Beckham called him "one of Britain's best sportsmen." The teenager won two hard-court events in the U.S. this summer and reached the final against No. 1 Roger Federer in Bangkok a month ago. Murray is ranked 70th and Henman 28th.
Lindsay Davenport regained the WTA's No. 1 ranking by beating No. 9 Patty Schnyder of Switzerland 7-6 (5), 6-3 on Sunday in the Zurich Open final. Davenport's 51st career title, sixth this season and third in a row, puts her back in the hunt for what would be her fourth season-ending No. 1 ranking.
Curtains close on sister act
Bulgaria's Magdalena Maleeva, 30, announced her retirement last week. She bowed out after a second-round loss to Schnyder at the Zurich Open and received a five-minute standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.
Maleeva and older siblings Manuela and Katerina were the first trio of sisters to compete in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament in the 1990 French Open. Maleeva turned pro at 14 in 1989, reached a career-high No. 4 in 1996 and came back from serious shoulder surgery in 1998 to win four more WTA titles and crack the top 20 again. She noted that next season will be the first in 26 years without a Maleeva in the picture.
Year-end championship qualifying update
Mary Pierce became the fourth WTA player to earn a trip to Los Angeles next month, joining Davenport, Maria Sharapova and Kim Clijsters. On the men's side, Australia's Lleyton Hewitt has clinched a spot in Shanghai along with Federer, Nadal, Roddick and Marat Safin.
Freelance writer Bonnie DeSimone is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.