Sunday, June 3, 2012
Nadal knocking on Borg's door
By Kamakshi Tandon ESPN.com
PARIS -- Novak Djokovic may be Rafael Nadal's biggest rival for this French Open, but Nadal's biggest rival in the history books is Bjorn Borg, the man whose record of six French Open titles he will be trying to break over the next two weeks.
If Nadal does this, he will also tie Borg with 11 Grand Slam wins, fourth on the all-time list and just five shy of Roger Federer's record.
Although much of the talk has centered around Djokovic's pursuit of the "Novak Slam," Nadal is also chasing some big achievements at this event.
The Nadal-Borg debate -- Who's the greatest of all time on clay? -- has raged for a few years now. Although many feel Nadal has already surpassed Borg, many others feel that it will take a seventh French Open for Nadal to eclipse the legendary Swede.
But Nadal has been making a strong case as far as numbers are concerned.
What To Watch, Day 8
• The Spaniards are out in force, with Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Nicolas Almagro all looking to reach the quarterfinals. Nadal takes on Juan Monaco, who is playing well but not quite as well as Nadal. Ferrer faces a likely exhausted Marcel Granollers. Janko Tipsarevic takes on the third of the Spaniards in what should be a close encounter.
• With Serena Williams gone from her path, Maria Sharapova tries to continue her quick progress through the draw. Things could get a little tougher against Klara Zakapolova, who proved to be one of Serena's worst nightmares on clay courts in 2009.
• The last American remaining, Vavara Lepchenko, takes on Petra Kvitova. The winner will face either defending champion Li Na or the dangerous Yaroslava Shvedova, who is returning from knee surgery last year.
According to ATP figures, Nadal's match record on clay is 247-19 (.929) compared to Borg's 245-39 (.863), and he has 35 titles on clay compared to 30 for Borg, though some of Borg's titles and matches may be undercounted because of the greater ambiguity between official and exhibition events at that time.
Although Borg retired near the peak of his career, Nadal looks set to carry on for a while, providing his body holds up.
The Spaniard can sometimes sound disenchanted about the grind of the tour.
"Seems like I am playing for 100 years here on the tour," he said last year. But his desire and motivation appear to be undiminished. As usual, his approach to the sport is unchanging -- win or lose, record or no record.
"I am coming here with [the same] motivation of every year," he told reporters ahead of the tournament. "I [am] not going to be more motivated because I have six and can win seven. And I was not more motivated when I arrived here in 2005 than today. I was not more motivated in 2010 [than] when I lose in 2009. The motivation is always the same. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win. That's the sport."
This attitude may help Nadal remain more resilient to defeat than Borg, whose losses to John McEnroe at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open hastened his decision to retire. Nadal, who took seven losses in a row to Djokovic between this season and last, has hung tough and won their past two encounters, both on his favorite red clay.
One side effect of Borg's early departure was that his record remained untarnished by defeats later in his career, while Nadal's aura of invincibility was somewhat dented by the losses to Djokovic last year. But if the Spaniard can reclaim the edge, his legend will grow even greater than before.
But that is some way off. Nadal next faces Juan Monaco, likely to be his toughest challenge so far at this event.
"We know each other very well, personally speaking, but also from the point of tennis," Nadal told reporters in Spanish. "We spend a lot of hours together. We practice very often together."
Gasquet looking for revengeAndy Murray and Richard Gasquet, who will meet in the fourth round, have had some memorable Grand Slam matches against each other. Murray came back from two sets down to defeat Gasquet in the Wimbledon twilight in 2008, and then Murray came back from two sets down again to defeat Gasquet at the 2010 French Open. Their next match, again at Wimbledon, was a tamer affair, with Murray winning in three straight sets.
So Gasquet will be out for revenge in Monday's encounter, but can he get it? The opportunity is there. The Frenchman defeated Murray in Rome a couple of weeks ago, when the Scot was struggling with a bad back. Murray's form here is also uncertain after he was hit with more injury issues in his second-round match, though he appeared close to normal in the third round.
"I'm not the favorite, but it's up to me to play a big match, to play inside the court, be really inside the court, which is what I managed to do in Rome during the third set," Gasquet said. "I'll be playing on a big court. I'll have to play a big match, but I have the crowd, and I have to give everything to have no regrets."
New success for new American
Varvara Lepchenko, who arrived in the United States from Uzbekistan as a political refugee 10 years ago and received American citizenship last year, has grabbed attention in her adopted homeland by reaching the last 16 at the French Open.
"I didn't even expect it," she said. "I mean, I just worked hard and tried to believe in myself. I'm just a fighter for a life, and in real life and on the tennis court."
Her rise has been propelled by her new status as a citizen, which has given her peace of mind, the ability to travel more freely, and the comfort to train full-time at the USTA facility in New York. And finally, after about eight years as a pro, her career is taking off. She began the year at No. 128 and will be close to the top 50 after this tournament, even if she loses her next match.
The 25-year-old has often credited the support of the USTA and Patrick McEnroe in his role as the USTA's head of player development. "They're fighting for me and they have given me coaches, they have given me everything that I need," Lepchenko said.
At the start of the season, she qualified for the Australian Open but lost to Daniela Hantuchova in three sets.
"We had a conversation with Patrick," Lepchenko said. "He said, 'We need more women in the second week of Grand Slams.' I said, 'You know what? I'm going to work even harder. Hopefully you'll see me in the second week.'"
And here she is. Lepchenko will be facing Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, whom Lepchenko lost to easily in their only meeting in Miami last year.