Agassi anoints Djokovic as greatest ever men’s tennis player

Agassi anoints Djokovic as greatest ever men’s tennis player
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Serbia's Novak Djokovic plays a forehand return during a practice session on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championships at Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia, on Jan. 12, 2024. (AP)
Serbia's Novak Djokovic speaks during a press conference ahead of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on January 13, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 14 January 2024
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Agassi anoints Djokovic as greatest ever men’s tennis player

Agassi anoints Djokovic as greatest ever men’s tennis player
  • Says Federer and Nadal are also great but Djokovic's numbers surpass theirs
  • Djokovic has won 24 grand slams, including 10 at the Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia: Eight-time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi has anointed Novak Djokovic as the greatest men’s player of all time, saying you cannot argue with the weight of his achievements.
The popular American former world number one, himself widely considered among the best the sport has seen, also had lavish praise for Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
But he said numbers do not lie.
“There’s so many ways to look at it, but when you look at it on paper you just can’t argue with what he’s accomplished,” Agassi told The Australian newspaper in Melbourne, where he is attending the opening Grand Slam of the year.
“The amount that he’s won, the head-to-heads, the Masters (titles), the year-end number ones, the weeks at number... all those stats.”




Former tennis champion Andre Agassi speaks at the Australian Open 2024 trophy arrival ceremony on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 14, 2024. (AFP)

Like Djokovic, Agassi played some of his best tennis at Melbourne Park, with four of his major titles coming at the Australian Open — in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2003.
But they pale against the Serb’s 10, with the 36-year-old favorite to add an 11th this year, which would take his Slam total to an all-time record 25, surpassing Margaret Court’s 24.
Nadal, who pulled out of this year’s Australian Open with a muscle tear, has won 22 Grand Slams and the retired Federer, 20.
“Novak has won more Australian Opens than I’ve won Slams for crying out loud... what do you do but laugh? I don’t know what to say to that,” said Agassi.
The 53-year-old, who bagged 60 career titles, including an Olympic gold, said Djokovic, Federer and Nadal had all brought so much to the game.
“I’m such a traditionalist for the game itself... when I look at what people bring to the sport, he (Djokovic) has brought so much, unquestionably,” he said.
“But then you look at what Roger has brought to the sport — the elegance and the class and the way that he did it.
“And then Nadal, the intensity or the ballistic nature in the way he engaged with the game — all of these guys have broadened tennis.
“When it comes to on paper, I don’t think you can argue against what Novak has done.”


Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
Updated 29 May 2024
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Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open

Iga Swiatek saves a match point and comes back to beat Naomi Osaka at the French Open
  • Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory
  • “For sure, this match was really intense,” Swiatek said

PARIS: Iga Swiatek played like the current No. 1 and the two-time defending champion at the French Open. No surprise there. That Naomi Osaka looked like the former No. 1 that she is — and on clay, no less — amounted to an announcement that she is still quite capable of elite tennis.
Surging down the stretch as Osaka faded, Swiatek saved a match point and grabbed the last five games to sneak her way to a 7-6 (1), 1-6, 7-5 victory in the second round of the French Open on Wednesday night in a thrill-a-minute contest befitting two women who both own four Grand Slam titles.
“For sure, this match was really intense. Much more intense for the second round than I ever expected. For sure, I’ll be more ready next time,” Swiatek said. “Naomi played amazing tennis. … I’m happy that she’s back and she’s playing well.”
For Swiatek, this extended her Roland Garros winning streak to 16 matches as she pursues a third consecutive trophy at the clay-court major. For Osaka, who cried when she left the court after letting a 5-2 lead in the concluding set slip away, this amounted to a return to her big-hitting best.
They went back-and-forth for nearly three hours as rain loudly pelted the outside of the closed roof at Court Philippe Chatrier — showers forced the postponements of 23 singles matches until Thursday — and a riveted, if hardly full, crowd alternated their support between the two players. Sometimes, spectators called out before a point was done, prompting admonishment from chair umpire Aurélie Tourte during the match. And from Swiatek afterward.
“Sometimes, under a lot of pressure, when you scream something during the rally or right before the return, it’s really, really hard to be focused,” Swiatek said. “The stakes are big and there is a lot of money here to win. So losing a few points may change a lot. So please, guys, if you can support us between the rallies but not during, that would be really, really amazing.”
Osaka served for the victory at 5-3 in the final set, and was a point away from winning, but she put a backhand into the net. Soon, when Osaka missed another backhand, this one long, Swiatek finally converted a break point on her 10th chance of that set, and they played on.
Maybe the lack of high-level matches caught up to Osaka, because her mistakes continued to mount, including a double-fault that put Swiatek in control 6-5. Swiatek, who has led the WTA rankings for nearly every week since April 2022, then held serve one last time.
“I don’t necessarily feel like I regret anything,” Osaka said.
Still, this was, without a doubt, Osaka’s top performance since she returned to the tour in January after 15 months away while becoming a mother. (Her daughter, who is 10 months old now, accompanied Osaka to Paris and recently started walking.)
“I was watching Iga win this tournament last year, and I was pregnant. It was just my dream to be able to play her,” Osaka said. “When I kind of think of it like that, I think I’m doing pretty well. And I’m also just trying not to be too hard on myself. I feel like I played her on her better surface. I’m a hard-court kid, so I would love to play her on my surface and see what happens.”
Because of the weather, only nine matches were completed Wednesday, and winners included Coco Gauff, Ons Jabeur, Sofia Kenin, Carlos Alcaraz, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev.
It’s been a few years since Osaka played this capably and confidently, hammering big serves at up to 122 mph (197 kph) and imposing groundstrokes. Her quick-strike capabilities were on full display: Osaka won 82 of the 139 points (59 percent) that lasted four strokes or fewer, and she finished with a 54-37 advantage in total winners.
All of those familiar mannerisms were back, too. She turned her back to Swiatek to reset between points, hopped in place, tugged at her pink visor’s brim and slapped her palm on her thigh. Osaka celebrated points by shaking a clenched fist and shouting “Come on!”
She grabbed nine of 10 games to dominate the second set and lead 3-0 in the third. Then 4-1. Then 5-2.
As one ball or another would fly past Swiatek, zipped near a corner or right at a line, she turned toward her guest box and shot a look of confusion or concern in the direction of her coach and her sports psychologist.
“I felt for most of the match that I wasn’t really (in the) here and now,” Swiatek said. “My mind was, like, playing around sometimes.”
She’s not used to this sort of one-way traffic coming head-on in her direction. Normally, it’s Swiatek who is delivering lopsided sets at a foe’s expense, especially on clay. She now has won her last 14 matches this month, with titles on the surface at Madrid and Rome — a clay double no woman had done since Serena Williams in 2013.
But this marked a sudden return to the Osaka everyone came to expect, match in and match out, back when she was at the height of her powers, climbing atop the rankings and gathering two trophies apiece at the US Open and Australian Open from late 2018 to early 2021.
It was in May 2021 that Osaka withdrew from the French Open before her second-round match, explaining that she experiences “huge waves of anxiety” before speaking to the media and revealing she had dealt with depression. She took time away from the tour for a mental health break, then opted for another hiatus after her title defense at the US Open a few months later ended with a third-round loss.
She helped usher in a change in the way athletes, sports fans and society at large understood the importance of mental health — and prompted those in charge of various sports, including tennis, to take the issue seriously and try to accommodate and protect them better.
Osaka entered with an 0-4 record on the red stuff against opponents ranked in the top 10 and never has been past the third round at Roland Garros. This also would have been her first win anywhere against a top-10 opponent since January 2020.
Instead, though, it is Swiatek who moves on and continues her bid to become the first woman with three championships in a row in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007-09.


Djokovic shrugs off troubles in winning start at French Open

Djokovic shrugs off troubles in winning start at French Open
Updated 29 May 2024
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Djokovic shrugs off troubles in winning start at French Open

Djokovic shrugs off troubles in winning start at French Open
  • Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, a semifinalist in 2023, overpowered Russian teenager Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2 in just 68 minutes
  • Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves

PARIS: Defending champion Novak Djokovic shrugged off his recent troubles to sweep to his 93rd career win at the French Open on Tuesday, extending his run of first round Roland Garros victories to a perfect 20.

Djokovic, chasing a fourth title in Paris and record 25th Grand Slam triumph, came through against 142nd-ranked French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-4, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4.

The 37-year-old, who saw career-long rival and 14-time champion Rafael Nadal exit the tournament on Monday, had arrived under a cloud.

For the first time since 2018, he is without a title and has yet to reach a final this season.

He has also endured recent misfortunes being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome and then suffering stomach problems in Geneva.

“It was a solid performance,” said Djokovic. “I could have done better, especially on the return, but bravo to him for serving well.

“It’s a victory in three sets, that’s what matters at this moment. I felt better compared to the last few weeks. I was focused. I encouraged myself, I am satisfied with my state of mind.”

Djokovic, who has advanced to the French Open quarterfinals or better every year since 2010, will face Spain’s 63rd-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena for a place in the last 32.

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka, a semifinalist in 2023, overpowered Russian teenager Erika Andreeva 6-1, 6-2 in just 68 minutes under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier as heavy rain caused a five-hour delay to action around the grounds.

World No. 2 Sabalenka fired 27 winners past the 100th-ranked Andreeva and broke serve five times in a dominant display.

“I’m trying to do well on clay, it is tough conditions here but I enjoy playing here and I’m just trying to bring my best tennis every time — whatever the surface,” said Sabalenka.

The Belarusian has made at least the last-four at her past six Grand Slams and is expected to be Iga Swiatek’s toughest rival in the Pole’s bid for a fourth French Open title.

There was better luck for Andreeva’s younger sister Mirra, who went to the fourth round as a 16-year-old in 2023.

She swept past Emina Bektas of the US in straights sets.

Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud, who won clay-court titles in Barcelona and Geneva in the build-up to Roland Garros, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.

“It’s great to be back here at Roland Garros,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it another good year here.”

Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Djokovic in last year’s final following a one-sided loss to Nadal in the 2022 showpiece.

Frenchwoman Alize Cornet’s career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.

Cornet was no match for China’s Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.

She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and had not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.

Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarter-finals.

“I already cried yesterday watching Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open.

Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen.

Kazakh world No. 4 Rybakina is the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semifinals in April.

There was no celebration for Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga who has sporting success in the blood.

His father Jorge famously scored the winning goal for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.

Ranked at 144, the 22-year-old came up short in a three-set loss to experienced Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.


Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
Updated 28 May 2024
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Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
  • World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018
  • He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness

PARIS: Novak Djokovic begins the defense of his French Open title at Roland Garros on Tuesday, confident his Grand Slam pedigree will help turn around his lacklustre season as tournament chiefs battled a frustrating five-hour rain delay.
By late afternoon on the third day, only four of the scheduled 40 first-round ties had been completed.
Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud and former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina were safely back in the locker room having benefitted from playing under the roofs of the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts.
World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018.
Djokovic, 37, has not won a title in 2024 and has yet to make a final with semifinal spots at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo Masters his best performances.
He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness.
In Geneva last week, where he was knocked out by Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, Djokovic said he had been suffering from a stomach problem.
“They are rather bumps on the road,” said Djokovic, who watched his long-time rival and 14-time champion Rafael Nadal bow out of the tournament against Alexander Zverev on Monday.
When asked to elaborate further on his difficulties so far this season, Djokovic opted for discretion.
“Various things have been happening in the last couple of months, but I don’t want to get into it. I don’t want to open Pandora’s Box.”
On Tuesday, Djokovic will take on French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the world number 142 who hasn’t won a match on the main tour this year.
Ruud, who won clay-court titles in Barcelona and Geneva in the build-up to Roland Garros, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.
“It’s great to be back here at Roland Garros,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it another good year here.”
Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Novak Djokovic in last year’s final following a one-sided loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2022 showpiece.
He also lost the 2022 US Open final to Carlos Alcaraz.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet’s career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.
Cornet was no match for China’s Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.
She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.
Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarter-finals.
“I already cried yesterday watching Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open on Monday.
Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen and could face three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber for a place in the last 32.
Kazakh world number four Rybakina is the only player to defeat tournament favorite Iga Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semifinals in April.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka gets her bid to reach a first Roland Garros final underway.
The world number two has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.
Sabalenka is also the only woman to beat world number one and three-time French Open winner 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.
The 26-year-old Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semifinals.
She starts her Paris campaign against Russia’s Erika Andreeva.
Also on court in the men’s singles is Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga who has sporting success in the blood.
His father Jorge famously scored the winning goal for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.
Ranked at 144, the 22-year-old is making his Grand Slam debut and takes on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.


Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open
Updated 25 May 2024
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Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open

Nadal says ‘not 100 percent certain’ it is his final French Open
  • “There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open,” said the Spaniard
  • Nadal has 22 Grand Slam titles

PARIS: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that it is likely he is appearing at the French Open for the final time but cautioned it was “not 100 percent certain.”
“There is a good chance that it will be my last French Open, but I cannot say that I am 100 percent certain that it will be the last,” said the Spaniard.
Nadal, who has won the French Open 14 times and will celebrate his 38th birthday on June 3, faces world number four Alexander Zverev in the first round in Paris on Monday.
The Spanish legend has racked up 112 wins in 115 matches at the tournament since his title-winning 2005 debut when he was just 19.
He has 22 Grand Slam titles — second only to Novak Djokovic’s 24 on the all-time men’s list — but his career has been plagued by injuries.
Nadal has played just four tournaments since January last year after suffering a hip injury and then a muscle tear.
As a result, his ranking has slumped to 276 in the world and comes into the French Open unseeded.


‘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.”