ATP Weekly Update week 19: Alexander Zverev challenging for clay supremacy

With Rafael Nadal's latest run of clay court dominant being temporarily put on the backburner, a new young gun is sending the message that he wants to be the new King of Clay.

ATP Weekly Update week 19: Alexander Zverev challenging for clay supremacy
Alexander Zverev was hardly challenged in his charge to the Miami Open title this past week. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Here is your VAVEL USA ATP Weekly Update. Every Monday, we will be posting results and analysis from the previous week’s singles action on the ATP World Tour, along with a preview to the upcoming week. Keep coming back to VAVEL USA every Monday for your ATP Weekly Update.

After fairly predictable results in the big events so far during the 2018 European clay court swing, there was finally a shake-up this week on the ATP World Tour. With the King of Clay’s reign being suddenly interrupted by a familiar foe, a youngster is beginning to truly establish himself as the heir-apparent to reins of the tour. Here is your ATP weekly update for week 19 of the 2018 season.

Last Week’s Results

Madrid

All eyes were on Rafael Nadal to continue his clay court domination on home soil at the Mutua Madrid Open. However, after the Spaniard was upset, it was Alexander Zverev making his claim to being one of the tour’s best clay court players. The 21-year-old German cruised to his third Masters 1000 title and possibly his most dominant yet, not dropping his serve, let alone a set, on his way to the Madrid crown. He beat Nadal’s conqueror Dominic Thiem in straight sets in the final.

Sascha Zverev poses with the trophy after his victory in Madrid. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Sascha Zverev poses with the trophy after his victory in Madrid. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

With all the focus on Nadal, Zverev quietly picked apart the draw in Madrid. He cruised through his first two matches before avenging his Miami Open final loss to John Isner by beating the American in straight sets in the quarterfinals. He followed that up by once again ending a Cinderella run by fellow young gun Denis Shapovalov in the semifinals before pummeling Thiem in the final. With the win, Zverev, at only 21 years old, joins the Big Four as the only active men on tour with three or more Masters 1000 titles.

World number one Rafael Nadal came into the tournament on a 21-match clay court winning streak and having not lost a set on clay in almost a year. He won his first two matches in straight sets which allowed him to break John McEnroe’s record for most consecutive sets won on a single surface by winning 50 in a row.

But it appears that Nadal now has a new nemesis on clay. In the quarterfinals, Dominic Thiem made a strong claim to being the only real threat to Nadal on the dirt by beating the Spaniard in straight sets. Thiem is the only person to beat Nadal on clay in the last two years. The Austrian beat the King of Clay in Rome last year, the last sets the Spaniard had lost before the start of his streak. The loss also cost Nadal his number one ranking.

Rafael Nadal (right) embraces Dominic Thiem after his shocking quarterfinal loss which snapped a 21-match clay-court win streak. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images
Rafael Nadal (right) embraces Dominic Thiem after his shocking quarterfinal loss which snapped a 21-match clay-court win streak. Photo: Denis Doyle/Getty Images

After the upset of Nadal, the biggest surprise of the tournament came courtesy of 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov. The Canadian teen came into Madrid without an ATP World Tour clay-court match win in his career. But Shapovalov found his clay feet in the Spanish capital, reaching the second Masters 1000 semifinal of his young career. The run included an epic win in an all-Canadian clash with Milos Raonic followed by a gutsy victory over rival Kyle Edmund in the quarterfinals before running out of gas against Zverev.

The feel-good story of the week came from world number eight Kevin Anderson. Despite being a major finalist, the giant South African was 0-10 in Masters 1000 quarterfinals in his career. Anderson finally broke through in Madrid, beating surprise quarterfinalist Dusan Lajovic, who had upset Juan Martin del Potro, to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal, where he fell to Thiem.

Rankings Update

Mover of the Week: Denis Shapovalov

Denis Shapovalov broke through to reach his second Masters 1000 semifinal and first semifinal on clay. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Denis Shapovalov broke through to reach his second Masters 1000 semifinal and first semifinal on clay. Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The 19-year-old Canadian came out of nowhere to reach the second Masters 1000 semifinal of his career. That included a beatdown of his countryman Milos Raonic. The run allowed Shapovalov to jump 14 spots, well past his previous career-high of number 42 up inside the top 30 for the first time to number 29 in the world.

Despite reaching the final for the second year in a row, Dominic Thiem actually fell a spot in the rankings as Kevin Anderson moved up one spot past him to a new career high of number seven. Quarterfinalist Kyle Edmund moved up three spots into the top twenty for the first time in his career at number 19. By failing to defend his semifinal points from 2017, Novak Djokovic fell six spots to number 18. The biggest jump of the week came from surprise quarterfinalist Dusan Lajovic who rose 29 spots up to number 66.

After weeks of hanging on, Rafael Nadal finally lost his grip on the number one ranking. By failing to defend his title in Madrid, Nadal dropped back down to number two in the world, with the idle Roger Federer moving back up to number one. The last two exchanges of the top spot have come with the new number one being idle and the incumbent failing to defend points. However, should Nadal win Rome this week, he will reclaim the top spot again.

Race to London

Place Name Points Change
1 Roger Federer 3110 -
2 Alexander Zverev 2545 +3
3 Juan Martin del Potro 2220 -1
Rafael Nadal 2050 -1
5 Marin Cilic 1660 -1
6 Dominic Thiem 1535 +5
7 Kevin Anderson 1440 +2
8 Hyeon Chung 1380 -2
9 John Isner 1275 -1
10 Grigor Dimitrov 1275 -3
11 Kyle Edmund 1180 +1
12 Roberto Bautista Agut 1085 -2

Madrid shook up the race to London in a big way. Alexander Zverev’s title allowed the German to jump up to number two in the race behind Roger Federer. By reaching the final, Dominic Thiem, who has spent most of the season just out of reach of the top eight, firmly implanted himself in a qualifying spot, moving up five places to number six. Kevin Anderson also moved up two spots into the top eight at number seven.

Miami champion John Isner was bumped out of a qualifying spot thanks to Thiem and Anderson’s results, slipping down to number nine. Grigor Dimitrov’s second-round loss to Milos Raonic also cost him his qualifying spot as he fell three spots down to number ten. After spending most of the season near the top of the race, Hyeon Chung has now slipped into the danger zone at number eight.

This Week’s Action

There ain’t no rest for the wicked or the stars of the ATP World Tour as another big crown is up for grabs this week.

Rome

The third Masters 1000 event of the clay court season will take place this week in Rome. The Italian Open serves as the last chance for most of the tour’s best to prepare for the upcoming French Open. Once again, Rafael Nadal leads the field, looking to reclaim the top spot in the rankings by winning an eighth crown in Rome. However, he will have to contend with the red-hot defending champion Alexander Zverev, who won his maiden Masters 1000 title here last year. The second seed in Rome has won his last nine matches and 18 sets.

Zverev made a statement with his victory in Rome last year. He will look to defend a Masters 1000 crown for the first time this week. Photo: Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Zverev made a statement with his victory in Rome last year. He will look to defend a Masters 1000 crown for the first time this week. Photo: Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

A deep field descends on Rome with 17 of the top twenty in action. The only ones missing are the new world number one Roger Federer, number 13 Roberto Bautista Agut, and number 20 Hyeon Chung. The former champions in the draw are Nadal (seven times), Zverev (2017), and Novak Djokovic (four times) who is seeded 11th.

Much attention was being given to former world number three Stan Wawrinka, who was returning to action for the first time since February. However, the 2008 Rome runner-up was defeated in his opening match on Sunday by Steve Johnson.

Check back next Monday for a wrap up of week 20 and a look ahead to week 21 on the ATP World Tour. Come to www.vavel.com/en-us/tennis-usa/ every Monday or follow us on twitter @VAVELUSATennis for your #ATPWeeklyUpdate