Rafael Nadal continued his resurgence on the European clay courts with a ninth career title in Barcelona. His 49th career clay court title ties Guillermo Vilas for most in ATP history and comes one week after winning a ninth title in Monte Carlo. Nadal is the only man in ATP history to win a single event nine times, a feat he has now achieved at the two aforementioned tournaments as well as at the French Open. During the last fortnight Nadal has scored wins over: Bedene, Thiem, Wawrinka, Murray, Monfils, Granollers, Montanes, Fognini, Kohlschreiber, and Nishikori. Fernando Verdasco was the other ATP titlist last week in Bucharest.
On the WTA Tour, Angelique Kerber defending her title in Stuttgart while Cagla Buyukakcay won the first title of her career. Kerber struggled in the immediate aftermath of her Australian Open triumph to start the year, but rallied to make two semifinals in Miami and Charleston before returning to the winner's circle this week. As for Buyukakcay, she became the first ever Turkish player to win a WTA title, doing so on home soil in Istanbul.
Continue reading for a more in depth look at the happenings in tennis last week, including: tweets, articles, podcasts, rankings, and everything you might have missed.
Nadal followed his victory last week in Monte Carlo with another in Barcelona. The back-to-back titles leave him #2 in the ATP Race To London and within 545 points of Wawrinka at #4 in the official ATP rankings.
The top Spaniard also announced that he has sued former French cabinet minister, Roselyn Bachelot, over doping allegations leveled against him.
Nishikori, aiming for a third successive title in Barcelona, fell just short in an entertaining final against Nadal. Failure to defend his championship points from a year ago means Nishikori remains at #6 in the ATP rankings, but is now 1,625 points behind Nadal.
Fernando Verdasco beat Lucas Pouille in a Monday finish to capture the Bucharest title. Starting the year at #49, Verdasco fell as low as #88 two weeks ago. His Bucharest title sees him on the cusp of returning to the top 50 at #51.
Pouille assumes a new career high ranking at #56 on the strength of his finals appearance in Bucharest.
Benoit Paire made the semifinals in Barcelona before losing to Nishikori. He's now only one spot away from being the fifth Frenchman inside the ATP top 20.
The Bryan Brothers scored their second title of 2016, both coming on clay. After a slow start to the year, the U.S. pair have won twice in the last three weeks.
Rafael Nadal injected a bit of intrigue into the ATP Tour with a ninth title in Monte Carlo last week. The prevailing narrative in men's tennis since the start of 2015 has been the unfettered dominance of Novak Djokovic. With the world #1's opening loss to Jiri Vesely at the Monte Carlo Masters, the rest of the top male players were gifted a chance to carve out a space for themselves in that narrative moving forward. Nadal did just that. He started with a third round win against Dominic Thiem, the same opponent who bested him in the Buenos Aires semifinals and who has looked like a burgeoning world beater this year. The rest of the way he turned back Stan Wawrinka, Andy Murray, and Gael Monfils. In short, it was a stellar week for the now nine-time Monte Carlo and Roland Garros champion. A few more weeks like this and Djokovic's path to a first Coupe des Mousqetaires might be unexpectedly trickier.
Nadal won his first Masters 1000 title since 2014. During that span, his struggles have been the subject of many tennis scribes' output. He did everything last week save for beating Djokovic, and that will be the story to watch as they each attempt to craft a redemptive narrative at this year's French Open.
Gael Monfils continued his consistent returns in 2016. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, his record in ATP finals fell to 5-19 after failing to outlast Nadal in a three-set final. Nonetheless, he's up to #14 in the rankings and edging closer to a return to the top 10.
Roger Federer made his return to the ATP Tour in Monte Carlo after knee surgery following this year's Australian Open. Two brisk wins against Garcia-Lopez and Bautista-Agut led to a quarterfinal tussle with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, one which the 17-time Grand Slam winner was unable to emerge from.
Andy Murray made the semifinals in Monte Carlo but ran into a resurgent Rafael Nadal. After winning the first set, while brandishing an attacking style of tennis, Murray's fortunes went south as Nadal seized control of the match.
Novak Djokovic can be forgiven for having an off day. After winning practically everything over the last 16 months, the world #1 fell in the second round to Jiri Vesely.
When the Roland Garros draws are revealed next month, Dominic Thiem's name is the one that will cause the most angst amongst the top players. His play against Nadal in the third round corroborated what we've witnessed over the past year: his ascendency to the top of men's tennis is only a matter of time.
Adidas debuted their French Open kits last week. Except to hear lots of griping over the zebra inspired prints over the next month.
Tommy Haas underwent the ninth surgery of his professional career last week. Yet, the 38-year-old vows to attempt another comeback
Week 14 of the tennis season served as an adequate appetizer for the upcoming European clay court swing with titles for Sloane Stephens, Dominika Cibulkova, Juan Monaco, and Federico Delbonis. Stephens captured her third trophy of 2016 (Auckland, Acapulco, Charleston) when she beat Elina Vesnina in straight sets. Monaco won the ninth title of his career and first since 2013 against defending Houston champion, Jack Sock. Meanwhile, Cibulkova re-entered the WTA top 40 at #38, besting Camila Giorgi in Katowice.
Red dirt clay tennis will feature almost exclusively over the next two months. The WTA and ATP tours will make stops in some of the world's most famous cities and most enduring events. In preparation for this colourful time of year, let's take a look back at the past seven days in tennis.
Photo by Daniel Ward for Women Who Serve.
Sloane Stephens won the fourth title of her career at the Volvo Car Open in Charleston this week. She overtakes Madison Keys as the #3 American behind the Williams Sisters, and ties Victoria Azarenka for most titles on the WTA Tour in 2016 with three apiece.
Dominika Cibulkova claimed her first WTA title in two years in Katowice. Her 2014 Australian Open final run catapulted her into the top 10 and upper echelon of women's tennis. This latest win rehabs her ranking and gets her within striking distance of a seed at the upcoming French Open.
Mattek-Sands and Safarova continued their return to the top of women's doubles with a runner-up showing in Charleston. Hingis/Mirza thrived in their absence from the doubles circuit, but the last two weeks prove their readiness to challenge the top team the rest of the season. Mattek-Sands also reached her third consecutive doubles final, having already won the Sunshine Double with two different partners.
Francesca Schiavone re-enters the WTA top 100 (#90) on the strength of a quarterfinal showing in Kataowice, losing to the eventual champion. The former French Open champ made only three QFs all of last year, and she's made two already in 2016.
Camila Giorgi, amidst a fresh scandal with the Italian Federation, summoned some of her best tennis to reach the Katowice Final. Catch up on that drama here.
Venus Williams looked poised to make a deep run in Charleston after an assured and purposeful 2nd round win versus Alison Riske. However, the world #14 stumbled in her next match against Yulia Putintseva, losing a three hour battle, 6-7 6-2 4-6.
Genie Bouchard, forced to retire in Charleston due to an abdominal injury, will now miss Canada's Fed Cup tie this week as she is still ailing.
After weeks of interminable drama outside the court, the Miami Open delivered a week's worth of scintillating tennis inside the lines. Victoria Azarenka, Novak Djokovic, and the doubles team of Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert all repeated their Indian Wells titles at the Miami Open, completing the so-called "Sunshine Double." For Azarenka, it was a forceful statement of her return to the top of the WTA after an absence of more than two years. Djokovic, long the front runner on the ATP Tour, solidified his stranglehold on the men's game; his opponents are now only able to measure victories in games won rather than matches. This week also saw the return of the Mattek-Sands/Safarova doubles pairing. Last year's Australian and French Open titlists won their first event together in 2016. After weeks of news off the court dominating the headlines, the Miami Open finale brought a sense of normalcy, at long last.
Victoria Azarenka completed the "Sunshine Double" - winning both Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back. The feat had only been achieved twice before by Steffi Graf ('94, '96) and Kim Clijsters (2005). Azarenka climbs three spots to #5 in the new rankings and now holds three titles in 2016.
Svetlana Kuznetsova rises to #13 after reaching the final in Miami. She beat four top-50 players, including Serena Williams, and sits at #6 in the Race to Singapore.
Timea Bacsinszky turned in her best performance of the year with a run to the semifinals. The knee injury sustained at the end of her breakthrough season in 2015 seems to be a thing of the past.
Angelique Kerber's semifinal appearance set up one of the more hotly anticipated matches of the fortnight versus Victoria Azarenka. It was the pair's third meeting of 2016; Azarenka won the Brisbane final to start the year, and Kerber avenged the loss in a memorable quarterfinal on her way to the Australian Open crown.
News of Madison Keys teaming up with Mats Wilander was one of the early stories of the tournament. But, by the time Keys reached the quarterfinals, it was already announced the pair would no longer be working together moving forward.
After four titles to start the year and a much talked about winning streak, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza suffered their third successive early loss.
The biggest news in Miami doubles was the successful return of the Mattek-Sands/Safarova pairing. Having not partnered since the WTA Finals in Singapore, last year's Australian and French Open champs returned in style with a title in Miami.
Veteran photographer, Corinne Dubreuil, had two cameras stolen from her in the Miami press room. When tournament organizers and sponsors refused to help recoup damages, Alizé Cornet started a fundraising effort to which you can donate here.