Djokovic treating ‘every Slam as last’ ahead of US Open return

Djokovic treating ‘every Slam as last’ ahead of US Open return
Novak Djokovic of Serbia trains in preparation for the US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Aug. 24, 2023 in New York City. (Getty Images/AFP)
Short Url
Updated 26 August 2023
Follow

Djokovic treating ‘every Slam as last’ ahead of US Open return

Djokovic treating ‘every Slam as last’ ahead of US Open return
  • At 36, Djokovic said Friday he is increasingly aware that opportunities to improve his record may become harder to come by even if he is not contemplating retirement
  • With Djokovic absent in 2022, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz emerged to claim the US Open crown

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic says he is treating every Grand Slam tournament like it’s his last as he prepares to make a long-awaited return to the US Open next week.

The Serbian star, winner of a record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, is bidding to add a 24th to his collection in New York over the next fortnight, which would put him two clear of Rafael Nadal’s 22 Slam titles.

At 36, Djokovic said Friday he is increasingly aware that opportunities to improve his record may become harder to come by even if he is not contemplating retirement.

“I don’t know how many more slams I’ll have,” Djokovic told a press conference.

“I’ll still keep going. I don’t have an end in my mind at the moment.

“I also understand that things are different when you’re 36, so I have to be more appreciative, a bit more, I guess, present, treating every Grand Slam as maybe your last one in terms of commitment and performance.

“I see this every Grand Slam that I play right now as really a golden opportunity to make more history.”

Djokovic has not played at the US Open since 2021, when his bid to complete a rare calendar year Grand Slam of all four tennis majors was foiled by Daniil Medvedev in an agonizing defeat in the final.

Djokovic was subsequently barred from entry to the US over his refusal to get vaccinated — putting him at odds with US government Covid-19 travel rules meaning he missed last year’s US Open.

Djokovic, who opens his campaign on the Arthur Ashe main arena against France’s Alexandre Muller on Monday, says he is relishing his return to what he described as the most “electric” atmosphere in tennis.

“The first feeling that I have is excitement to come back because it is the biggest arena we have in our sport, the biggest stadium, and definitely the most fun, electric, exciting atmosphere out there in tennis, playing night session in Arthur Ashe, no doubt,” Djokovic said.

“Come back in front of probably the loudest fans in sport, tennis fans in sport.”

With Djokovic absent in 2022, Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz emerged to claim the US Open crown.

Since then, Djokovic and Alcaraz have developed a fierce rivalry, with the Spaniard winning a five-set classic in the Wimbledon final last month, before Djokovic bounced back with a pulsating win in the Cincinnati Open final last weekend.

Djokovic said last week’s defeat of Alcaraz in Cincinnati in a near four-hour epic felt like winning a Grand Slam.

“It was one of the best, most exciting, and most difficult finals I was ever part of in best-of-three, no doubt, throughout my career,” Djokovic said.

“The amount of exchanges and rallies. It was physically so demanding and grueling that I felt very exhausted for the next few days.

“Those are kind of the moments in matches that I still push myself on a daily basis for day in and day out, practice, sacrifice, commitment. At 36, still have the drive. I love competition.”

While most neutrals will be craving a Djokovic-Alcaraz rematch in the US Open final on Sept. 10, Djokovic insists he is looking no further than Monday’s opener.

“I think it’s also in a way disrespectful to your next opponent if you’re already thinking about your finals matchup,” Djokovic said.

“Even though I’ve had tremendous success ... that kind of mindset never really resonated with me.

“But Carlos is No. 1 in the world. He’s definitely one of the best players in the world the last couple years.

“Sure, there’s always an eye that follows him from my team, from any other team. I know that the same goes for me probably. We follow each other.”


Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona
Updated 18 April 2024
Follow

Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona

Nadal loses to De Minaur in second round at Barcelona
  • Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal
  • Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory

BARCELONA, Spain: Rafael Nadal’s first tournament since January lasted only two matches with the Spaniard losing 7-5, 6-1 to Alex de Minaur at the clay-court Barcelona Open on Wednesday.

Nadal, back from an injury layoff, looked like his old self for brief moments in the second-round match but couldn’t keep up with the 11th-ranked De Minaur.

“The moment I lost the first set, the match was over,” Nadal said. “I can’t play a three-hour match right now. This wasn’t the place for me to give everything I have. We’ll see what happens in Paris. I want to be competitive there, that’s where I have to give it all.”

Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month. He said he will try to play at the Madrid Open next week but didn’t fully commit.

“I didn’t want to take any risks,” Nadal said. “The important thing here was to play and I played. To be on the court is great news.”

The 22-time Grand Slam champion had comfortably defeated 62nd-ranked Flavio Cobolli in straight sets in the first round on Tuesday in what was his first competitive match in more than three months.

Nadal again looked injury-free on Wednesday but was never in control against the in-form De Minaur, who picked up his second career win over Nadal.

It was only his fifth defeat at the Barcelona Open, a tournament he has won a record 12 times.

“It’s natural that this was probably my last match here,” Nadal said. “I really enjoyed playing here. It was unimaginable to win it 12 times.”

Nadal is returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. Before this week, he had played only three competitive matches this year — all in Brisbane in January — before skipping the Australian Open.

Nadal also withdrew from Monte Carlo, saying he his body wasn’t ready.

The 37-year old Nadal had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

BAUTISTA AGUT’S 400TH

Roberto Bautista Agut rallied to defeat Andrea Vavassori 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to earn his 400th tour-level victory.

The 35-year-old Spaniard is the 13th active player with at least 400 ATP Tour wins.

“To me it’s just a number,” Bautista Agut said. “The important thing is that I’ve done great work over these years, that I’ve had a very consistent career, a career that I can feel proud of.”

OTHER RESULTS

Third-seeded Casper Ruud advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alexandre Muller, while sixth-seeded Ugo Humbert lost 6-4, 6-4 to Dusan Lajovic.

Ninth-seeded Nicolas Jarry lost 7-6 (5), 6-3 to qualifier Marco Trungelliti, and 14th-seeded Jordan Thompson got past Jaume Munar 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.


Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open
Updated 17 April 2024
Follow

Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open

Nadal returns to action with easy win over Cobolli in first round of Barcelona Open
  • Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving
  • World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima

BARCELONA, Spain: Taking it easy after months away from competitive tennis, Rafael Nadal was good enough to earn a comfortable first-round win at the Barcelona Open on Tuesday.

Nadal looked injury-free in a 6-2, 6-3 win over Flavio Cobolli to advance to the second round in his first tournament in more than three months.

Nadal converted on his second match point to seal the victory over the 21-year-old Italian ranked 62nd in the world. The Spaniard will next face Alex de Minaur, who had a first-round bye.

“Taking everything into consideration, it was a good first round,” Nadal said. “I played the kind of match that I needed to play. I’m happy for the victory and happy to be playing at home again.”

Nadal, a 12-time champion at the clay-court tournament, said he was never at full strength at the center court named after him, especially when serving.

“I’m not going to do anything that doesn’t make sense right now,” he said. “I’m not going to go out there and serve like crazy. I have to take it easy because that’s what’s needed at the moment.”

Nadal broke serve twice in each set. He finished with eight winners and 22 unforced errors.

Nadal was returning from yet another injury layoff and hadn’t played since an exhibition match against Carlos Alcaraz in March. The 22-time Grand Slam champion had last played a tournament in Brisbane in January, when he played only three matches before skipping the Australian Open.

He withdrew from Monte Carlo saying he his body wasn’t ready yet. Nadal is a 14-time winner at the French Open, which begins next month.

The 37-year old Nadal said it will likely be his last time playing the Barcelona Open. The Spaniard had hip surgery last summer and said 2024 will probably be his last year playing on tour.

FRUSTRATED RUBLEV

World No. 8 Andrey Rublev smashed his racket to the ground several times after a 6-4, 7-6 (6) loss to American Brandon Nakashima.

It was the third consecutive first-round defeat for the second-seeded Rublev, who also lost in straight sets in Monte Carlo and Miami. He also lost in straight sets in the second round in Indian Wells.

It was only the second win over a top-10 opponent for the 22-year-old Nakashima, and the first on clay. The world No. 87 had beaten Holger Rune in Shanghai last October.

“I’m still out here competing as hard as I can,” said Nakashima, who reached No. 43 in the world in 2022. “I’m happy with getting my level back to where it was. Playing in front of these crowds and on this court was super special.”

OTHER RESULTS

Also Tuesday, Facundo Diaz Acosta defeated 15th-seeded Borna Coric 6-2, 7-5. Tomas Machac beat Shang Juncheng 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting with 11th-seeded Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.

Roberto Carballes Baena defeated Hugo Grenier 6-2, 6-4, while Jaume Munar cruised past Yoshihito Nishioka 6-3, 6-1.


Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final

Ruud finally beats Djokovic and Tsitsipas downs Sinner to set up Monte Carlo Masters final
  • Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud
  • Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall

MONACO: Casper Ruud finally got the better of Novak Djokovic, beating the top-ranked Serb 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 on Saturday to set up a Monte Carlo Masters final against two-time champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas won the earlier semifinal against a tiring Jannik Sinner 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to hand the Australian Open champion only his second defeat of the season.
Djokovic double-faulted on match point in his first career defeat in six matches against Ruud. He had never even taken a set off Djokovic before, including at last year’s French Open final.
Djokovic trailed 4-1 in the deciding set but held his next serve and broke a nervous-looking Ruud’s serve to love to pull back to 4-3.
At 15-15 in the eighth game, Djokovic turned and shouted an expletive toward someone in the crowd. Chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani urged fans not to call out during a rally, but did not issue a verbal warning to Djokovic despite the loudly audible expletive, which was followed by an angry glare.
A sloppy 10th game in the deciding set saw him trailing love-40 on serve, and the eighth-seeded Ruud received the victory on his third match point.
Ruud and the 12th-seeded Tsitsipas are chasing their first titles of the year and 11th overall.
The record 24-time men’s Grand Slam champion Djokovic still hasn’t won a title this year, and remained on 98 in his glittering career.
Sinner, who has three titles in 2024, looked in control in the deciding set when he led Tsitsipas 4-3 with a service game to follow.
But he called for a medical timeout during the changeover and a trainer massaged his right knee and thigh. Although a smiling Sinner shared a joke with the trainer, things got more serious in the next game when Tsitsipas broke his serve at the fifth attempt to level the score.
Sinner limped a little at the end of the next game and clutched the hamstring area of his left leg, then had both legs massaged. His movement was restricted in the ensuing game, and Tsitsipas clinched victory on his first match point when Sinner’s backhand from the back of the court went long as he struggled for balance.
“He is one of the toughest opponents I have faced so far and to find ways when there weren’t that many, I am proud of that,” Tsitsipas said.
American actress Zendaya, British actor Josh O’Connor and other cast members from the tennis movie “Challengers” were among the crowd enjoying the sunshine at Monte Carlo Country Club. Italian fans crossing the nearby border made Sinner feel at home, but Tsitsipas enjoys strong support here after winning in 2021 and 2022.
Tsitsipas broke Sinner and held for 3-1 in a commanding first set where he used angles well to disrupt Sinner’s more rhythmical play.
The level of intensity from both players increased in the second set. A long ninth game lasting 13 minutes saw the second-seeded Sinner save five break points before holding to level the match.
He broke Tsitsipas in the first game of the deciding set and held easily.
At this point, another final looked increasingly certain.
The Italian was enjoying himself and smiled to his coaching team after winning one point with an audacious sliced dropshot in the fifth game.
But Tsitsipas, who took Djokovic to five sets in the French Open final in 2021, showed trademark endurance and clawed his way back as Sinner started fading.


Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona
Updated 13 April 2024
Follow

Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona

Rafael Nadal to make ATP return next week in Barcelona
  • THE 22-time Grand Slam champion missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will make his return to ATP competition for the first time since January when he plays Flavio Cobolli in the Barcelona Open next week.
The 22-time Grand Slam champion has played just once, in an exhibition match, since he felt a hip injury flare-up during his quarter-final defeat by Jordan Thompson in the Brisbane Open.
The tournament has also been boosted by the return of Nadal’s compatriot Carlos Alcaraz, the world No.3, who withdrew from this week’s Monte Carlo Masters due to a right arm injury.
Unlike Nadal the two-time defending Barcelona champion gets a first round bye due to being seeded.
Nadal, 37, missed virtually all of the 2023 season through injury and has only played at the Brisbane International this season.
The injury in Brisbane prompted the record 14-time French Open winner’s withdrawal from the Australian Open as well as Doha and Indian Wells, where he had first intended to make his comeback.
His one appearance since Brisbane came in an exhibition match against Alcaraz in Las Vegas in March where observers noted some discomfort in his back.
With this potentially Nadal’s last year on tour, he will be desperate not to miss any more clay court preparation time as he seeks to win a record 15th French Open title in June.


Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages
Updated 12 April 2024
Follow

Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages

Djokovic, Sinner into Monte Carlo quarters as Medvedev rages
  • Djokovic: I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player
  • De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin

MONTE CARLO: Novak Djokovic avenged last year’s Monte Carlo Masters defeat by Lorenzo Musetti to reach the quarterfinals Thursday along with Jannik Sinner, while Daniil Medvedev launched into a furious tirade during his defeat.

World No. 1 Djokovic made a poor start and endured a second-set wobble before coming through 7-5, 6-3 against the 24th-ranked Musetti, the man who beat him at the same stage 12 months ago.

“I don’t think I am still at my top level but it was a great test today against a great player, a very talented player,” Djokovic said.

“I am really glad to overcome the challenge and look forward to the next one.”

Djokovic goes on to play Alex de Minaur, the 11th seed from Australia, in the last eight.

The Serbian top seed dropped serve in the opening game against Musetti before working his way back to level at 4-4, and then snatched the set on a double fault by his opponent.

Djokovic broke twice early in the second set either side of losing his own serve to surge 4-1 ahead. Musetti clawed back to within a game but Djokovic broke again for 5-3 before closing out the win.

Djokovic has struggled to find his best form in recent times in Monte Carlo. He has not won the tournament since the last of his two titles in 2015, failing to advance beyond the quarter-finals in seven subsequent appearances.

Australian Open champion Sinner improved his record to 24-1 this season with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Jan-Lennard Struff.

The world No. 2 broke at 4-4 en route to pocketing the first set and won nine of the final 11 games to sweep to victory.

“I broke him quite early and then he broke me back. I knew it was going to be really tough, but I guess I returned really well, especially on second serves. I can be very happy,” said Sinner.

Sinner next faces Holger Rune who defeated the Italian in the semifinals last year before finishing runner-up to Andrey Rublev.

Rune made the last eight after a three-hour 30-minute 7-6 (11/9), 3-6, 7-6 (7/2) win over Grigor Dimitrov, saving two match points in the 12th game of the deciding set.

“It was a great match,” said Rune. “I thought I played a very good first set, it was very long, one-and-a-half hours. So it was tough physically.”

Like Dimitrov, Rune had earlier completed a rain-delayed third round clash.

“I had a match earlier today which was two sets, so I played five sets today actually, which is pretty brutal,” added the Dane.

Medvedev tore into the officiating for the second day running as he was beaten 6-3, 7-5 by Karen Khachanov.

Medvedev was hit with a point penalty to start the final game after berating chair umpire Carlos Bernardes and then became embroiled in a heated discussion with the tournament supervisor.

The world No. 4 had already been warned after hurling his racquet when he double-faulted to lose his service game and leave Khachanov a game away from victory.

Medvedev, who took issue with two line calls in his second-round win on Wednesday, felt aggrieved when a Khachanov forehand was not called out during a rally that resulted in the latter earning two break points at 5-5.

The arrival of the physio to treat a finger bleed at the ensuing changeover tipped Medvedev over the edge, with the Russian yelling “did I ask for the physio!” at the umpire.

He then demanded of the supervisor “who will take responsibility?” for the decisions.

Television replays appeared to show the shot in question from Khachanov had landed wide of the court.

“It’s second day in a row. Guys, open your eyes. Do something. It’s out,” raged Medvedev.

“The mark is out. They don’t know how to referee anymore. Who will take action?

“Yesterday the ball is out, it’s called in. Who will take action. This ball is out there. Who will take responsibility? It’s not my responsibility to referee the matches.

“It’s this guy in the glasses (the line judge). He doesn’t need glasses because he doesn’t see anything. He should not be a referee.”

Khachanov’s reward is a quarterfinal Friday against Stefanos Tsitsipas, who saw off fifth seed Alexander Zverev 7-5, 7-6 (7/3).

De Minaur moved into the last eight with a 6-3, 6-4 victory against fellow Australian Alexei Popyrin.