Monday, June 25, 2012
Uncle Toni feeling quite chipper
By Ravi Ubha
WIMBLEDON, England -- Rafael Nadal's expression after he won the French Open told us all we needed to know.
After he finally beat Novak Djokovic to end his Grand Slam finals losing streak, Nadal wept in joy -- and possibly relief.
Nadal was back practicing on the grass at Wimbledon on Monday as he attempts to pull off a third Paris-London double, flanked, as he is on most occasions, by his coach and uncle, Toni.
If Nadal was elated at Roland Garros, so, too, was Toni.
He knew the significance of the occasion.
"That match was very important for us for a number of reasons," Toni Nadal told ESPN.com. "The first thing was because we lost three straight times in Grand Slam finals to Djokovic. If we lost the fourth one, we would have accomplished the Grand Slam of losses. That wouldn't have been nice.
"And another thing: Rafael played very well during the clay season, and to lose the last match, it would have been very, very hard -- and not fair. During the tournament, I think he was better than Djokovic, who had more problems than us."
Still, the current world No. 1 made the final more exciting when he rallied from two sets and 2-0 down to force a fourth set, which he then led by a break before rain interrupted proceedings and forced a Monday conclusion.
"On the Monday, Rafael was very nervous," Toni Nadal said. "It was normal. It was a hard match for us, and because of everything I was very happy."
Was Toni Nadal happy with his nephew's Wimbledon draw?
The world No. 2 starts with dangerous lefty Thomaz Bellucci, and he could meet Ivan Dodig -- who downed Nadal at the Canadian Masters last year -- in the second round. Tommy Haas, last week's winner in Halle, Germany, could loom in the third.
"I think all the players are dangerous in the first round when they play here," Toni Nadal said. "It's always hard. Wimbledon is a place where it's difficult to get a rhythm, to get the feeling, so it's normal."
When will Milos Raonic reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal? With his monstrous serve and composure, who is to say it won't happen at Wimbledon?
He's hoping this year at SW19 will be better than his debut in 2011, when Raonic slipped against Gilles Muller in the second round and ended up missing about three months with a hip injury.
Despite his lack of experience, the towering Canuck says he's comfortable playing on grass.
"It's not that big of a difference," said Raonic, referring to making the switch to grass. "It's a bit different the first few days because the court isn't chewed up. Moving is a little harder. But [overall] it helps me. It's easier for my serve. I feel good on it. I'm playing well on it. I think it maybe brings a lot more discomfort to other players than me."
Raonic tuned up for Wimbledon by competing in Halle, and he stretched Roger Federer to a third-set tiebreaker -- but still lost. When the two met in Madrid, Federer also prevailed in a third-set tiebreaker.
Raonic's record against the top 10 this season slipped to (a still respectable) 3-4 after Halle, while his record against those outside the top 10 is 23-5.
"I had a few break chances against Roger in Madrid," said Raonic. "If I make one of those points -- maybe I felt too many of them I played passively, waiting for him to sort of crumble, which he didn't do. On one I made a bad mistake and the other he saved very well. Maybe I just need to find that balance of when to go for it a bit more. That's just more through experience."
Will Raonic break British hearts if he faces Andy Murray in the fourth round?
Many an English heart was broken on the eve of Wimbledon when England lost to Italy on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals of soccer's Euro 2012 tournament.
Yes, penalties again.
But though most inside the country felt glum, not so for the Italians on site.
Italy deserved the win, creating better opportunities, yet the turning point in the penalty shootout came when veteran Andrea Pirlo sent a cheeky chip into the middle of the net.
"I was afraid because as happens many times in football, one team is dominating and then you see the other team get a goal," said Claudio Pistolesi. "Or one team dominates for 120 minutes and then they're out on penalties. I think justice was done. Now we have to face Germany [on Thursday]."
Ah, yes, the Germans, who were favored to make the final before Euro 2012 began and who have two more days to prepare for the semis than Italy.
"The Germans are the favorites even if we'd won in 90 minutes and even if we played a week before the Germans," said Davide Sanguinetti, like Pistolesi a former player turned coach. "In a knockout match like that, Italy is always dangerous, especially because we are good on defense. If we score one goal, we will be in good shape."
Spain, the defending champion, meets Portugal in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
Spain has been criticized for being boring, which Toni Nadal took exception to.
"It's very possible, but it was the same thing when Federer was winning everything. It was boring, too," he said sarcastically. "He was too good and it was too easy. I think Spain is doing the same thing. Today I think Spain is better than the other teams."