Djokovic, Alcaraz stay on track for Wimbledon showdown

Djokovic, Alcaraz stay on track for Wimbledon showdown
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Poland's Hubert Hurkacz during their men's singles tennis match on the eighth day of the 2023 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on Monday. (AFP)
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Updated 11 July 2023
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Djokovic, Alcaraz stay on track for Wimbledon showdown

Djokovic, Alcaraz stay on track for Wimbledon showdown
  • Elena Rybakina, Ons Jabeur post easy victories to set up rematch of last year’s final
  • The first result of the day was on No. 2 Court, where 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva’s fairytale run was brought to an end

LONDON: Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz stayed on track for a dream final at Wimbledon on Monday as defending women’s champion Elena Rybakina reached the last eight after barely breaking sweat.

Last year’s beaten finalist Ons Jabeur hammered two-time champion Petra Kvitova 6-0, 6-3 while second seed Aryna Sabalenka also won in straight sets.

Djokovic tamed the impressive serve of Hubert Hurkacz to stay on track for a record-equalling eighth title and 24th Grand Slam, winning 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (8/6), 5-7, 6-4 to reach his 14th quarterfinal at the tournament.

The Serbian second seed was two sets up when a locally agreed 11:00 p.m. curfew halted play on Sunday.

The match resumed on Center Court on Monday and the Polish 17th seed broke his illustrious opponent in the 12th game to get a foothold in the match.

In the fourth set, Djokovic broke for a 4-3 lead, ending Hurkacz’s perfect run of 67 service games at the tournament this year.

Victory in his 100th match at the tournament gave the Serbian a 90th win.

“In the important moments, particularly in the fourth, I managed to read his serve, make that break. That was the key to success,” said the 36-year-old, who will face Russia’s Andrey Rublev in the quarter-finals.

Alcaraz lost the first set to 2021 runner-up Matteo Berrettini but recovered to reach the quarters for the first time, winning 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.

The Spaniard has little experience on grass in his short career but won last month’s tournament at Queen’s to set himself up for a tilt at the Wimbledon title.

“I really wanted to play the quarterfinal here, coming this year with that goal,” said the US Open champion, who reached the fourth round at the All England Club last year.

“It’s my dream to play a final here, to win this title one day, so I hope to reach that dream this year but right now it’s great to be in the quarterfinals.”

Alcaraz will face sixth seed Holger Rune next after his fellow 20-year-old beat veteran Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

Men’s third seed Daniil Medvedev was 6-4, 6-2 ahead when unseeded Jiri Lehecka retired from their Court One clash with a foot injury.

The Russian will face 43rd-ranked Christopher Eubanks, who beat fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.

The American described grass as the “stupidest” surface to play on last month but he has now changed his tune.

“The grass and I, we’ve had a very strenuous relationship over the years but right now I think it’s my best friend,” he said.

The first result of the day was on No. 2 Court, where 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva’s fairytale run was brought to an end.

The teenager, who came through qualifying, looked set for a place in the quarterfinals when leading 25th seed Madison Keys by a set and 4-1 but the American fought back to win 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.

The match ended in controversy when Andreeva was handed a penalty point for banging her racquet into the surface.

The sanction took Keys to match point.

Andreeva said she was seeking to channel Roger Federer, who was a hot-headed player in his younger days.

“I knew that Roger Federer was struggling with emotions when he was teenager,” she said of the 20-time Grand Slam champion.

“I’m not the only one who also struggles.”

In the opening match on Center Court, Rybakina was 3-1 up when Brazilian world No. 13 Beatriz Haddad Maia took a medical timeout to treat a lower back injury. She returned to the court but had to retire when trailing 4-1.

Kazakh third seed Rybakina will play Jabeur in the quarters in a rematch of last year’s final after the Tunisian swept Kvitova aside in just over a hour.

“I’m probably going for my revenge,” she said. “It was a difficult final last year. It’s going to bring a lot of memories.

“I’m hoping to play like today and get the win because she’s an amazing player.”

In the other women’s fourth-round tie, Belarusian second seed Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open this year, breezed past Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-4, 6-0 and will play Keys next.
 


‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev
Updated 24 May 2024
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‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

PARIS: Daniil Medvedev said he was “happy” not to have been drawn to face 14-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open first round as the great Spaniard prepares to bid an emotional farewell to the tournament.
Nadal, who has only lost three times in 115 matches at Roland Garros since his title-winning debut in 2005, is playing the French Open for the last time.
In a blockbuster first match, unseeded Nadal will face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev and world number five Medvedev could not be more delighted.
“I’m not shy to say I’m happy it’s not me playing against him first round,” admitted Medvedev on Friday, a day after practicing with Nadal.
Former world number one and 22-time Grand Slam title winner Nadal, whose ranking has slumped to 276 after featuring in just four tournaments since January last year, will turn 38 on June 3.
However, Medvedev warned Zverev that Nadal is far from a fading force.
“There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of mental effort. Sometimes people forget he has a lot of talent in his hands also,” said the Russian.
“We were warming up serves and then he did three in a row, volley, dropshots, banana ones, with backspin, and it was funny.
“We were saying, ‘Yeah, no talent, just hard work!’“
Nadal holds a 7-3 winning head-to-head record against Zverev with five of those victories coming on clay.
The last time they met was in the 2022 semifinals in Paris when the German was forced to retire after suffering a serious ankle injury.
“It’s tough to play Rafa,” added Medvedev.
“He has the capability to spin the ball not like other players, get these high balls especially on clay, is not easy.
“Then we go to where he fights for every point, he brings intensity to every point. You know you’re going to be tired, you know it’s going to be tough. It’s not easy.”


French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round
Updated 23 May 2024
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French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round
  • Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries

PARIS: Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and the 14-time champion was set up for a challenging first-round matchup against Alexander Zverev from Thursday’s draw.
Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.
After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But he has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.
Unseeded.
His matchup against the No. 4-ranked Zverev is a rematch of their 2022 semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.
The French Open begins on Sunday.


Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win
Updated 22 May 2024
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Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win
  • The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court

GENEVA: Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday with a much-needed win as he gears up for his French Open title defense, progressing to the Geneva quarter-finals.
The world number one downed Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3 in the second round at the Parc des Eaux-Vives grounds.
Djokovic took a wild card to play in Geneva in a bid to rescue an alarming dip in form ahead of next week’s French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court following his win.
He lifted the cake and showed it off to the crowd, having a nibble before offering some to the ball boys and girls.


Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell
Updated 22 May 2024
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Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell
  • The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005
  • As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world No. 1, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing history of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Whether or not the 2024 French Open becomes No. 13 will soon become apparent as the draw for the event takes place on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent,” explained Nadal after a second round exit in Rome last week.

“And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic.

He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name.

“We have to enjoy the time he has left on court, evaluate it, and be aware that it’s very unlikely that something like that will happen again,” said coach Carlos Moya during the recent Madrid Open.

“Personally, I’m never on court when he enters or leaves, but I am this year because I like seeing the love he gets from the people when he steps on court.

“He’s one of the great stars of this sport, he’s about to retire, and it’s really amazing to see that.”

Nadal isn’t the only A-list talent under a Paris cloud ahead of the tournament start on Sunday.

Defending champion and record 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic, whose three titles in Paris put him alongside Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, is enduring a title dry spell unseen since 2018.

Back then, he also reached May without a trophy before crashing to a shock last-16 defeat at the French Open to unheralded Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

This season, Djokovic has lost his Australian Open title and has yet to make a final on tour.

Adding injury to insult, he was hit on the head by a falling water bottle in Rome, a freak accident which he claimed caused nausea and dizziness.

In an attempt to gather a degree of clay-court confidence ahead of the French Open, Djokovic, who turns 37 on Wednesday, grabbed a late wild card in the ongoing Geneva tournament.

Between them, Nadal and Djokovic have carved up the last eight French Open titles while 2009 was the last time a final at Roland Garros did not feature at least one of them.

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner, the man who succeeded Djokovic as Australian Open champion, has been laid low by a hip injury which caused him to skip the Rome Open.

The 22-year-old Italian reached the quarterfinals of the French Open on his debut in 2020 where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets.

Sinner has an extra incentive to progress deep in Paris as he could depose Djokovic as world No. 1.

Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, also skipped Rome to nurse an arm injury.

The world No. 3 took the first set off Djokovic in their semifinal last year before body cramps saw his slip to defeat.

The Spanish crowd-pleaser admitted that his sudden and dramatic diminished physical state was caused by the fear of facing Djokovic.


Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown
Updated 22 May 2024
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Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown
  • The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007
  • Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome

PARIS: Iga Swiatek admits she is the favorite and “confident” ahead of her bid to become only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era.

The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome.

The only female player in history to complete a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble in the same season is Serena Williams.

But Swiatek is not daunted by what she could achieve.

“I’m No. 1 so I’m the favorite everywhere if you look at rankings,” she told reporters after swatting aside second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the Rome Open final last weekend.

“But rankings don’t play, so... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis. But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused.”

The 22-year-old Pole has plenty of years ahead of her to chase records but is wasting little time — her four WTA 1000 titles this season have taken her career total to 10.

That is already only 13 short of Serena Williams’ all-time record.

With four Grand Slam titles, Swiatek has not struggled to translate that form to the major tournaments in the past, but insists it is tougher to lift the sport’s biggest trophies.

“Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court,” she added.

“I love to come to Paris again and be there. It’s a great place for me to be. I really enjoy my time there anyway. These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Swiatek is aiming to join Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Henin in lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen four times in the Open era.

The biggest obstacle standing in her way is Sabalenka.

The Belarusian missed three match points before losing to Swiatek in a thrilling Madrid final and will be hoping to get another crack at her rival after a one-sided loss in Rome.

Sabalenka, the two-time reigning Australian Open champion, has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.

She is also the only woman to beat Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.

Sabalenka has an 8-3 losing record against Swiatek, but insisted after Rome that she wanted to face her again in Paris.

“Even though I lost these two finals, I mean, I never focus on the past,” she said.

“No matter how many times I lose to the player, I know anyway if I’ll be there, if I’ll be fighting, I’ll be focusing on myself, I know that I can get that win.

“I mean, I’m going there with the confidence that I can do well there.”

Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semis.

“I’m definitely not the favorite probably there,” she said.

“But at the same time I do feel that I can actually go for it.

“It’s 50/50, you know? But I prefer to be underdog. I really hope I’m going to make it to the final and I really hope I’ll be able to get that win, if it’s Iga or not.”

Elena Rybakina, the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this year, was being touted as part of a new ‘big three’ 12 months ago.

But the Kazakh has failed to make the last four at a Slam since losing the 2023 Australian Open final to Sabalenka and has been passed in the rankings by US Open champion Coco Gauff.

American Gauff, playing in a major for the first time since turning 20, will be hoping to go one better than when she lost the 2022 French Open showpiece to Swiatek.