Old Balls Please: 30-Somethings Serena, Castano, Nalbandian, Haas And Benneteau Bid For Sunday Glory
by Sean Randall | February 17th, 2013, 12:04 am

Shall we call it Turn Back the Clock Day tomorrow because each of the five pro tournaments remarkably have a 30-something in the final! There’s Serena Williams in Doha. Then there’s Tommy Haas in San Jose. Julien Benneteau is out for his first title in Rotterdam. David Nalbandian has made an incredible return by reaching the Sao Paulo where he’ll face Rafael Nadal. And in Cali, Colombia, 33-year-old Catalina Castano has stunned her home country fans reaching that final. So yes, maybe something is in the air – meteors, anyone?

As for the matches, after dumping Maria Sharapova for a 10th straight time, 31-year-old Serena Williams renews her rivalry with “friend” Victoria Azarenka. Serena’s won 10 of 11 so it’s hard to call it much of a rivalry, but the two who’ll swap ranking spots on Monday did play a good one last September at the US Open and I think in Doha it will be another close affair. Azarenka is playing well, Serena is so-so. So wouldn’t it be fitting to see Azarenka win and stay undefeated on the year just when Serena returns to No. 1? I’ll drink to that!

“I just have to be consistent and really focused on my own game,” Azarenka said. “We all know she has a great serve. She’s really aggressive and really consistent. So for me it’s important to just focus on myself and execute my game. That’s it.”

Down in South America, Rafael Nadal’s Sao Paulo (mis)adventure continued. Yesterday, the 7-time French Open champion nearly got bounced by Carlos Berlocq. Yes, that’s the same Carlos Berlocq who once got double bageled by James Blake. Today, Nadal again needed three sets this time against someone named Martin Alund. The scoreline: 6-3, 6-7, 6-1. King of Clay? At least the French is three months away.

With the poor court conditions, I said a few days ago when Rafa withdrew from doubles (Nalbandian was his partner) that I wouldn’t be surprised if Nadal went home early. To his credit he hasn’t – though who really would want to lose to Berlocq or Alund? Tomorrow, it’s a big jump in class against David Nalbandian. The 31-year-old Argentine who’s making his return to tennis for the first time since Winston-Salem, beat Nicolas Almagro yesterday and then in the semifinals today whacked Simone Bolelli 6-3, 7-5.

We know Nalbandian has the game, especially the backhand, to really hurt Nadal. After playing all this tennis the last week will he have the fitness? In this best match up of the day, Rafa should get through this one.

Juan Martin Del Potro should also get through his title bout in Rotterdam with the 31-year-old Benneteau.

“Being in the final means a lot to me after an early loss at the Australian Open,” Delpo said. “I think I’m serving really well, but I feel like I can improve a little bit for tomorrow. I faced break points today, so that means I need to improve if I want to win tomorrow.”

Julien of course slayed a very subpar Roger Federer in a straight set stunner Friday. And now the Frenchmen is out to clear his name from the “Best Player To Have Never Won a Title” label. Unfortunately for him, in his eighth career final I don’t see his luck changing tomorrow. After losing to Federer in the final last year, I think Del Potro gets his Rotterdam trophy.

And in San Jose, the senior citizen of the Sunday 30 club is the 34-year-old Haas. The former Top 5 from Germany is having a rebirth of sorts this week (and really the last 6/7 months). After dealing with a multitude of injuries and ailments and pure bad luck, Haas is back playing solid tennis again this week and today he authored an excellent win over American big man John Isner 6-3, 6-4. But tomorrow he’ll have his hands full with 2-time defending champion Milos Raonic who’s never lost at the tournament anbd like Haas, hasn’t dropped serve.

“It’s a tough sport, but these moments really make me just appreciate the hard work you put into it,” said Haas who’ll be 35 in April. “As long as I’m healthy and can play at this level, and still enjoying these tournaments, it’s a blessing to be around and still playing tennis at this level.”

Indeed, it is a blessing some of these guys are still around.

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45 Comments for Old Balls Please: 30-Somethings Serena, Castano, Nalbandian, Haas And Benneteau Bid For Sunday Glory

M Says:

LOL, Sean.

Did you see my comment in the other thread and *then* decide to write your column? :-)

Humble Rafa Says:

It looks like there is only one 31 year who can’t win anything.

I am so young compared to these oldies.

chofer Says:

“In this best match up of the day, Rafa should get through this one”

Sean, Really?? Have you seen Nadal’s play these last couple of weeks? The only thing preventing me that this going to be Nalbandian’s to lose is that everybody keeps forgetting David is also playing his first tournament in five months. So he also lacks in the competitive gear department, too.
Anyway, he has gave Nadal so many fits in the past (with Nadal being OK) that frankly this seems to me as a really bold prediction from your part. So, unless Rafa brings his A game out of nowhere, I’ll take David.

Also, Sao Paolo’s main court is an indoor hard court with clay spread on top. It’s THAT bizarre. And I KNOW because I’ve been there! (the name of the facility is Gimnasio Iberapuera, and is regularly used to volleyball and basketball games)
So count this one as a high speed, very slippery clay court. No the conditions in which Nadal thrives on, naturally.

Brando Says:

Nalbandian will win. Anyone who has seen Rafa in this tourny and nalby will realiz quite clearly that thes awful conditions suit one over the other.

Giles Says:

^^ Very dangerous conditions indeed for Rafa.
Thank goodness it’s the last match.
Sao Paulo need to get their act together so far as the disgraceful court conditions are concerned, not to mention the supermarket balls!
And this is an ATP event?? Absolutely no interest whatsoever! #ShameOnAtp

Brando Says:

^ apologies for the spelling- on the darn iPhone ATM!

Brando Says:

Yep Giles, completely agree. I just hope rafa comes out of this one fine and healthy: whatever the result the fact that he has ha maximum possible matches can only help him IMO. A weeks rest, practise, better held tourny in Acapulco: expect a better performance there. His tennis will improve and strongly too IMO!

Giles Says:

Brando. I think he is resting next week, spending time with his family in Conzumel.

chofer Says:

Nadal is delaying his appearence on court in Sao Paolo. Is something happening there? Will he show up for the final? The match have to had already started by now.

jane Says:

Congrats to Milos and Delpo, winners on the day thus far.

jane Says:

Rafa’s having no issues today; he’s winning easily thus far.

chofer Says:

Nadal/Nalbandian 6-2. Nadal brings his B Game. Nalbandian his D. He had the chance to broke in the first game. Nadal was unaccurate as I saw all week. How could I ever thought Nalbandian was to be even more erratic than the spaniard? Kudos to Nadal to build on his chances and gain confidence out of this. But allow me to say Nalbandian let him do it. Not even his reliable backhand is going in.

jane Says:

Nalby was serving for 4-0, and now it’s 3-3.

The fighter Says:

come on Rafa! I am looking forward to your victory. Also happy that Vika is winning

marrisv Says:

Wow. From 0-3 down to 5-3 up. Now can rafa close it out

chofer Says:

Nadal playing his best match since comeback. Some deep balls I didn’t see the last two weeks. But not otherwordly stuff as expected since 7 months lay off.
Nalbandian incomprehensible. Not only his worst match, but strangely wrong on all aspects about strategy. Playing Nadal’s forehand won’t get him chances. Overall lame stuff. Not a good match. Too much UE.

Somebody is seeing Doha? Can you tell me if that is a decent match, at least?

marrisv Says:

Yes, Nadal does it. This should give him some confidence for bigger and better battles coming up.

jane Says:

Congrats to Azarenka! She beats the new number 1 in Qatar: 7-6, 2-6, 6-3. I guess they’re pretty closely matched now, these two. Thinking to the US Open final, it was awfully close. Serena won that slam, but Vika won the AO. It’ll be interesting to see this rivalry develop. I have a feeling neither will win the FO, though I could be mistaken.

Congrats to Rafa also; I don’t think Nalby played his best today but it’s a good win for Rafa none the less. Enjoy Rafa fans!

Giles Says:

UNBELIEVABLE!! Cr@ppy court, cr@ppy balls, cr@ppy knees! Champ prevails. Vamos Rafa, well done!!!:-))))))))))))

Daniel Says:

Congrats Nadal. Retun of a champion!!

Most touching part was his father crying.

Karthick Says:

Vamos Rafa!!! A title after 8 months.. You deserved it!!! Vamos.. :)

Brando Says:

WOW- VAMOS RAFA! Out atm but seriously pleased for rafa! :-)

Humble Rafa Says:

You are welcome.

It was my pleasure.

alison Says:

Pleased for Rafa,hes not played brilliantly since hes been back,but thats only to be expected,but this was only his 2nd tourney back and his second final,and he took the title,at 3/0 down he could have let that 2nd set go,but no he fought back to win the title in two sets,showing true grit,not for nothing is Rafa called the king of clay,i hope this will give him more confidence going into future tourneys,but for now vamos Rafa,and welcome back.

Sirius Says:

#51. Not bad ;)

The fighter Says:

Congrts Rafa!

Giles Says:

A bonus prize for Rafa for the fastest serve of the match! Wow!

Giles Says:

A welcome sight! #VamosChamp

alison Says:

Jane thanks for those kind words about Rafa,i didnt see the match but ATM its good enough for only his second tourney back,and he can build on from there,i agree about Serena/Vika rivalry they are equally matched now,and also about the FO,i have a feeling Li Na or Stosur could win that one,just a hunch though,as im usually wrong about these things.

Giles Says:

A happy Rafa. That’s a big trophy!

courbon. Says:

Congratulations to all Rafa fans!( sincerely-you guys had to suffer for last 7 months )

Steve 27 Says:

Nadal is the KING OF Indoor CLAY! Wow!
Well done. 8 is the pursuit, Carriers of the number 8 are people prepared to face adversity as much present in front of them, because they can breathe in the strong will. This is Nadal, people.

alison Says:

Thankyou Courbon :-)

alison Says:

I dare say this forum would have lit up like a christmas tree had he lost,with the usual suspects gloating,because hes won they dont want to know,not what you would call true tennis fans :-(

Humble Rafa Says:

My teeth was aching for something, I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Now I know what I was missing. Taste is awesome.

Giles Says:

^^^ Who cares!! The important thing is Rafa’s victory! Rafa fans are overjoyed and that is what matters the most! #VamosKing

Giles Says:

my last post is for alison

Giles Says:

HR. lol

Tennis Vagabond Says:

Vamos! Very happy with all three men’s winners as they all portend a more competitive and unpredictable 2013!

skeezer Says:

Congrats to Rafa. Looks like he is on the road back. Now please get rid of the whining. (refer to 12:52 post). Oh, how are those sore knees? Must magically feel better since ya won a title :-).

RZ Says:

Here’s Ben Rothenberg’s (NY Times writer) tweet on the “New Ballers” weekend.

Ben Rothenberg ‏@BenRothenberg

A player 31 or older (Serena, Benneteau, Nalbandian, Haas, Castano) made all 5 finals (incl Cali 125k) this week. They all lost. #elderabuse

RZ Says:

^ It was a great showing by them. Too bad none of them won (looks like only Serena came close)

Humble Rafa Says:

I have to tell you. If the Big Lady Loses to Queen Vika a few more times, she will pick Vika Up and bite her, Mike Tyson style. Wait and see, folks. Great drama ahead.

If it’s not Queen Vika, it’s the umpire.

Alok Says:

Congrats to Rrafa on winning this title. IMO, this win should give him a much neded boost to his confidence. it would be good for the sport if Rafa gets back into the conversation and make things unpredictable.

Nice for serena to get back to No.1 and make the finals at qatar,after her back and ankle problems at the AO.

I wouldn’t say that Serena and Aza are closely matched at all. There’s about 7 years between them and several GS and other titles. They didn’t meet at they didn’t meet at the AO, so can’t compare.

juljo724 Says:

I love it, LOL (being sarcastic of course). The blog is about players over 30, and ONE SENTENCE is about the most famous over 30 yr old (which we are constantly reminded of all the time by fedfans). BTW, you can’t blame his loss on age. I just think that it was just not his day plus Bennetteau is bad match up for him. Anyone else, and personally, my opinion is he might have won and been in the final.

Congrats Rafa, and hope he keeps building more confidence and practice as the weeks go by!

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