Rafael Nadal was set for an early New Year opportunity to avenge the worst defeat of his career yesterday when he was to tackle bitter rival Robin Soderling, the man who dumped him out of the French Open.
World No. 2 Nadal was defeated for the first time at Roland Garros last year, where he was four-time champion, by the towering Swede, a setback that sent his season into a downward, injury-hit spiral.
Nadal, who also lost to Soderling at the ATP World Tour finals in London, was to get his chance for revenge when the two were to meet in the final of the Capitala World Tennis Championship, an exhibition tournament, in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Nadal, who beat compatriot David Ferrer 7-6, 6-3 in an all-Spanish semi-final, is without an ATP final since May, with his second half of the season badly affected by knee tendinitis and a stomach strain.
Soderling made the final by beating world No. 1 Roger Federer 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/1), 6-2 in his semi-final on Friday.
It was Soderling’s first career win over Federer, having lost the previous 12 times they had met, including in last year’s Roland Garros final.
“I’ve known Robin for a while and it was great to see his incredible run at the French Open. I think he’s really picked it up and it’s great to see,” Federer said. “It was obviously hard starting the year against him in a rematch of Roland Garros. I had fun though.”
Former world No. 1 Justine Henin faces a tough first-round match in her official comeback tournament after drawing second-seeded Nadia Petrova at the Brisbane International.
Henin, a wild card, was the last player in the 32-women field to come out of the draw, coincidentally conducted by Petrova. The Russian gave a rueful smile as she turned Henin’s name card over at the public draw in downtown Brisbane yesterday.
US Open champion Kim Clijsters will play Italian Tathiana Garbin today at Pat Rafter Arena. Henin plays Petrova tomorrow.
Men’s top seed Andy Roddick drew Australian Davis Cup player Peter Luczak, while fellow American James Blake will play fifth-seeded compatriot Sam Querrey.
Henin spent 117 weeks at No. 1 and has seven Grand Slam titles.
She announced her comeback in September, soon after her Belgian compatriot Clijsters won the US Open.
Clijsters and Henin are on opposite sides of the draw and could meet in the Brisbane final.
Henin said earlier this week she has matured during her 20-month break.
“I believe I can be a better player, I believe I can use my experience more than in the past,” Henin said. “When you are into [playing tennis at] 200 percent you have no time to realize it.”
Petrova felt Henin was already close to displaying the form she was in before her retirement.
“She was playing good tennis and she only needs a couple of matches to get her confidence,” Petrova said.
Kamaru Usman put on a Fight Island masterclass yesterday to retain his UFC welterweight world title by grinding down a brave Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi. “I’m at the top of the mountain and everyone’s looking at me,” said the 33-year-old Usman after scoring a unanimous points decision 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 on the three judges’ cards. The Nigerian-American Usman (17-1) looked the fresher fighter, with Masvidal (35-14) having taken the UFC251 headline bout at just six days’ notice when Brazil’s Gilbert Burns (19-3) tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to travel. The Las Vegas-based UFC pulled off a power-packed schedule with
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