Djokovic Makes Fast Start To Olympic Gold Bid Despite ‘Brutal’ Heat

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns a shot to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

 

 

Novak Djokovic launched his quest for Olympic gold on Saturday with a straight-sets win at the Tokyo Games as tennis stars toiled in the searing summer heat on the opening day of the tournament.

World number one Djokovic, the undisputed favourite for the men’s title in Japan, easily dispatched Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-2, avoiding a repeat of his first-round exit five years ago in Rio.

“It was challenging but I’m pleased to overcome the first hurdle,” said Djokovic, who was beaten by Juan Martin del Potro at the 2016 Olympics.

“I think I was solid on the court. I could always do better but for a first match I’m satisfied.”

Djokovic dodged the worst of the sweltering conditions at Ariake Tennis Park as late afternoon cloud cover provided some respite from the hot sunshine that confronted players in the earlier matches.

 

 

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic serves to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP)

“It was the hottest day so far. Humidity is brutal. It’s certainly hot but also humid, the hard courts absorb the heat and it stays trapped in there. There was not much wind, not much breeze,” said Djokovic.

The 19,900-seat venue, home to 11 outdoor courts and the showpiece Ariake Coliseum court, was almost empty, with fans barred from all but a handful of Olympic sites in Tokyo because of strict Covid-19 rules.

Djokovic, a 2008 bronze medallist, is hoping to emulate Steffi Graf’s 1988 feat of winning the Golden Slam after already snapping up the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year.

He will take on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in round two, in an event missing half the men’s top 10 players, including 2008 Olympic champion Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

One of the Serb’s chief rivals for gold in Tokyo is Daniil Medvedev, who saved a set point in the second set before completing a 6-4, 7-6 (10/8) win over world number 40 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.

– ‘Not here to cry about heat’ –
Second seed Medvedev, appearing at his first Games, broke Bublik in the opening game of the match and edged a close-fought second set to book a last-32 clash with India’s Sumit Nagal.

“It’s some of the worst (conditions)… I’m not going to lie, but you have to play. That’s the Olympics, you go for the medal. You’re not here to cry about heat, it was really tough for both of us,” said Medvedev.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open champion, needed just over an hour to brush aside 172nd-ranked Mona Barthel 6-2, 6-2.

Sixth seed Swiatek, in the same quarter of the women’s draw as Japanese star Naomi Osaka, will play Spain’s Paula Badosa for a place in the last 16.

“It was very hot as everybody is saying,” said Swiatek, whose father Tomasz competed in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

“Even though I’ve practised here for a few days already, a match is totally different because the stress comes in and the conditions are different, you feel everything twice as much.”

Reigning Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova advanced when her Kazakh opponent Zarina Diyas retired down 5-2 in the first set.

 

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns a shot to Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien during their Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men’s singles first round tennis match at the Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 24, 2021. (Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP)

 

Last month’s beaten French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova inflicted a crushing 6-0, 6-1 defeat on Italy’s Sara Errani, the 2012 runner-up in Paris.

Osaka was originally scheduled to kick off the tournament against China’s Zheng Saisai, but her match was pushed back 24 hours after she was chosen to light the Olympic cauldron in Friday’s opening ceremony.

“Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honour I will ever have in my life,” Osaka wrote on social media.

The four-time Grand Slam champion will return to court Sunday following an eight-week break after she abandoned her French Open campaign for mental health reasons and then skipped Wimbledon.

Andy Murray, the defending two-time singles gold medallist, began his fourth Olympics by combining with Joe Salisbury to knock out French second seeds Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 6-3, 6-2 in the men’s doubles.

Murray, now ranked a lowly 104th, takes on Canadian ninth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in the first round of the singles.

Djokovic Reaches 50th Grand Slam Quarter-final

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning against Chile’s Cristian Garin during their men’s singles fourth round match on the seventh day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on July 5, 2021. PHOTO: Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic reached his 50th Grand Slam quarter-final on Monday with a straight-set victory over Chile’s Cristian Garin at Wimbledon.

World number one Djokovic eased into the last-eight at the All England Club for the 12th time, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2, and will face Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics for a place in the semi-finals.

“Confidence levels are very high after winning the French Open,” said Djokovic.

“It was one of my biggest wins in the circumstances — two five-setters, two four-setters in the second week.

“They took a lot out of me but they also gave me wings.

READ ALSO: England Ready To End Semi-Final Jinx At Euro 2020, Says Southgate

“The further I go in the tournament, the more comfortable I feel and I look forward to the next challenge.”

Djokovic, chasing a sixth Wimbledon crown and a record-equalling 20th major title, is halfway to a calendar Grand Slam.

Only two men have swept all four majors in the same year with Rod Laver the most recent back in 1969.

Djokovic broke serve five times on Monday and hit 28 winners, twice as many as his 17th-seeded Chilean opponent.

Fucsovics became just the third Hungarian man and first in 73 years to reach the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

The 29-year-old, ranked at 48 in the world, defeated Russian fifth seed Andrey Rublev 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.

Fucsovics blasted 41 winners past Rublev as he reached his first quarter-final at the Slams.

He is only the third Hungarian man in history to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon after Bela von Kehrling (1929) and Jozsef Asboth (1948).

AFP

Djokovic Eyes Third Round As Wimbledon Courts Spark Concern

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic serves the ball to Italy’s Matteo Berrettini during their men’s singles quarter-final tennis match on Day 11 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 9, 2021. (Photo by Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP)

 

Five-time champion Novak Djokovic renews his long-standing Wimbledon rivalry with Kevin Anderson on Wednesday as serious questions are asked over the quality of the fabled Centre Court where Serena Williams suffered her tournament-ending injury.

World number one Djokovic, looking to move alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal as a 20-time Grand Slam winner, has a 9-2 record over the big South African.

That includes three wins at Wimbledon in 2011, 2015 and in the 2018 final.

Anderson was beaten in straight sets in that championship match three years ago, exhausted by back-to-back five-setters in the last-eight and semi-finals.

He defeated Federer 13-11 in the final set of their quarter-final clash and then John Isner 26-24 in the fifth set of the semi-final.

Since that time, Anderson, now ranked 102 in the world, has undergone two surgeries on his right knee in 2019 and 2020.

“I never really thought of quitting,” said 35-year-old Anderson.

Djokovic opens play on Centre Court, a day after seven-time champion Serena Williams retired with a right leg injury after twice falling over in the first set of her opener against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

The 39-year-old American left the arena in tears as her dream of equalling Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors was again thwarted.

– ‘Meticulous standard’ –

“I was heartbroken to have to withdraw,” she said.

Her fall came not long after French player Adrian Mannarino had slipped and hurt himself on the same part of Centre Court.

He too had to retire with his match against Roger Federer level at two sets apiece.

“I do feel it feels a tad more slippery maybe under the roof,” said Federer.

Despite the criticism, the All England Club insisted that the courts are up to standard.

“The preparation of the grass courts has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years,” the club said in a statement.

“The weather conditions on the opening two days have been the wettest we have experienced in almost a decade, which has required the roof to be closed on Centre Court and No.1 Court for long periods.”

Djokovic had also struggled to keep his feet on Centre Court on Monday when he faced Jack Draper in his first round tie.

The tournament has been hit by heavy rain over the the first two days.

As a result 50 first round matches remained unfinished at the start of Wednesday’s schedule.

Fifth seeded Bianca Andreescu of Canada was knocked out 6-2, 6-1 by France’s Alize Cornet who famously defeated Serena Williams on her way to the last 16 in 2014.

Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, is still to win a main draw match at Wimbledon having lost in the first round as a qualifier in 2017.

– 100 wins for Nishikori –

Italian seventh seed Matteo Berrettini, the champion at Queen’s and tipped to go deep at Wimbledon, edged Argentina’s Guido Pella 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori, a two-time quarter-finalist, claimed his 100th Grand Slam match win by seeing off Australia’s Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Britain’s Andy Murray won his first singles match at the tournament in four years when he saw off 24th seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili two days ago.

The three-time champion and former world number one, now down at 118 in the rankings, tackles qualifier Oscar Otte of Germany for a last-32 place later Wednesday.

Murray, 34, has overcome a career-threatening hip injury to still be playing at the highest level.

Both Djokovic and Murray would have been buoyed by seeing world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas removed from their half of the draw in the first round.

In the women’s tournament, Belarus second seed Aryna Sabalenka, yet to make the last-eight of a Slam, faces British wild card Katie Boulter, the world 219.

Sabalenka won their only previous meeting at the Australian Open in 2019.

Venus Williams, the 41-year-old five-time champion who made her tournament debut in 1997, takes on Ons Jabeur who is hoping to become the first Tunisian to make the third round.

Frances Tiafoe, who knocked out Tsitsipas, plays Vasek Pospisil of Canada.

AFP

Djokovic Slides To Victory As Wimbledon Makes Soggy Return

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic returns against Britain’s Jack Draper during their men’s singles first round match on the first day of the 2021 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 28, 2021. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic overcame an early scare before getting his bid for a sixth Wimbledon and record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title off to a winning start on Monday while rain brought havoc to the schedule, one year after the tournament was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Defending champion and world number one Djokovic, looking to become just the third man in history to complete a calendar Grand Slam, claimed a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 win over Britain’s 253rd-ranked Jack Draper.

However, the 34-year-old Serb struggled on the slippery Centre Court surface with the roof closed above it due to the rain.

Left-handed Draper, playing just his fifth match on the main tour, saved seven of seven break points in the opener to stun the top seed.

But Djokovic soon snuffed out any danger of him becoming only the third defending champion to lose in the first round, by sweeping through the remainder of the tie.

He finished with an impressive 25 aces and 47 winners as his 19-year-old opponent, who grew up just six miles (9.5km) from the All England Club, wilted.

– ‘Extremely well’ –

“He’s a youngster and I hadn’t seen him play too much prior to Queen’s and he played pretty well, won matches against high-ranked players,” said Djokovic.

“Walking onto Wimbledon Centre Court for the first time, he’s done extremely well.”

Next up for Djokovic will be either former runner-up Kevin Anderson or Chilean qualifier Marcelo Tomas Barrios Vera.

It was the 34-year-old Djokovic’s first match on the court since his epic five-set win over Roger Federer in the 2019 final, the longest title match in tournament history and where he saved two championship points.

His match on Monday was preceded by a standing ovation for Professor Sarah Gilbert, one of the key scientists behind the Oxford Asra-Zeneca Covid-19 vaccine who was a special guest in the Royal Box.

Wimbledon looks very different with Covid-19 protocols in place and a 50% capacity until finals day, but one familiar feature was the summer rain.

Play on the outside courts started five hours late with 16 of the day’s scheduled 64 matches cancelled until Tuesday.

Belarus second seed Aryna Sabalenka had the honour of being the first winner at the tournament in two years when she downed Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu 6-1, 6-4 under the roof of Court One.

Sabalenka fired 48 winners past Niculescu.

Elsewhere on Monday, Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas, promoted to third seed in the absence of Rafael Nadal, has a tough opener against 57th-ranked Frances Tiafoe of the United States.

Tiafoe won a second-tier grass court Challenger event in Nottingham this month before making the quarter-finals at Queen’s Club.

Tsitsipas, who lost a five-set final to Djokovic at the French Open two weeks ago, made the last 16 at Wimbledon in 2018.

However, he was a first-round loser two years ago and comes into Wimbledon with just 15 matches on grass in his career.

Two-time champion Andy Murray is on Centre Court against Georgia’s Nikoloz Basilashvili, a semi-finalist in Halle.

– Hotel bubble –

Murray, now ranked at 118, is playing his first singles match at Wimbledon since 2017 after a lengthy battle with hip and groin injuries.

Petra Kvitova, the 2011 and 2014 champion, starts against former US Open winner Sloane Stephens.

Players are confined to a hotel ‘bubble’ in central London this year.

However, there have already been two virus-related withdrawals.

Britain’s Johanna Konta was identified as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case and will have to self-isolate.

The world number 31, a semi-finalist at the tournament in 2017, had been drawn to face Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic.

The 30-year-old’s place will be taken by 123rd-ranked lucky loser Wang Yafan of China.

On Saturday, former men’s doubles champion Frederik Nielsen was forced to withdraw after also being identified as a close contact.

“This is not unexpected,” said All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton.

“It’s terribly sad for the players but it’s something we plan for. We have protocols in place.”

AFP

Djokovic Ready To Be First Among Equals At Wimbledon

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts during his ATP 250 Serbia Open semi-final singles tennis match against Russia’s Aslan Karatsev at The Novak Tennis Centre in Belgrade on April 24, 2021.
PEDJA MILOSAVLJEVIC / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic is targeting a record-equalling 20th major and sixth Wimbledon title from next week, edging him closer to becoming only the third man to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

The world number one has already won a ninth Australian Open and second French Open this season.

That has put him halfway to emulating Don Budge (1937) and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969) in sweeping all four majors in the same year.

It is a feat that even his closest rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have never managed and will probably never achieve.

“Everything is possible,” said 34-year-old Djokovic after winning the French Open earlier this month when asked if the Golden Slam of all four majors and Olympic Games gold was a realistic target.

“I’ve achieved some things that a lot of people thought it would be not possible for me to achieve.”

Djokovic memorably captured a fifth Wimbledon in 2019, saving two championship points to defeat Federer in the longest ever final at the All England Club at four hours and 57 minutes.

He was deprived of defending his title in 2020 when Wimbledon was cancelled due to the pandemic.

However, Djokovic has been at this juncture before, winning in Australia and Paris in 2016 but coming up short at the Rio Olympics, Wimbledon and the US Open later in the year.

Djokovic has won seven of the last 11 Slams as he ramps up his assault on the record of 20 majors held jointly by Federer and Nadal.

Nadal, the Wimbledon champion in 2008 and 2010, has already withdrawn from this year’s tournament, still scarred by the bruising loss to the Serb in the French Open semi-finals.
– ‘Huge challenge’ –

Eight-time winner Federer, meanwhile, will be 40 in August and won just one match on grass at Halle in the build-up to Wimbledon.

Federer, who underwent two knee surgeries in 2020, won the last of his eight Wimbledons in 2017 and the most recent of his 20 majors in Australia in 2018.

The Swiss star has lost three finals to Djokovic at the All England Club in 2014, 2015 and the epic 2019 clash.

“It’s a huge challenge for me,” said Federer of his comeback.

“Things don’t come simple, they don’t come easy.”

The rest of the current top 10 have endured so far mediocre Wimbledon records.

Only 33-year-old Roberto Bautista Agut, a surprise semi-finalist two years ago, has got beyond the last 16.

Daniil Medvedev has a best of the third round, while Dominic Thiem, who made the fourth round in 2017, crashed at the first hurdle in 2018 and 2019.

Alexander Zverev had a best last 16 run in 2017 but was also a first-round loser two years ago while Andrey Rublev has yet to get past the second round.

Of the remainder of the top 10, French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini are Djokovic’s most likely threats.

Tsitsipas made the last 16 in 2018 before exiting in the first round two years ago.

The Greek, however, is one of the form players of 2021, winning titles in Monte Carlo and Lyon before forcing Djokovic to recover from two sets down in the Roland Garros final.

Queen’s Club champion Matteo Berrettini is also a dangerman for Djokovic.

The Italian made the last 16 in 2019 where it took Federer to stop his progress.

He was also the first man to win the Queen’s title on debut since Boris Becker in 1985 — the German went on to win a maiden Wimbledon just weeks later.

Andy Murray, the 2013 and 2016 champion, will hope to ride a national wave of emotion at least into the second week.

But the injury-plagued Briton, a former world number one, is down at 119 in the rankings and has won just two matches all season.

AFP

England Win Euro 2020 Opener As Denmark Confirm Eriksen Cardiac Arrest

Denmark's players gather as paramedics attend to midfielder Christian Eriksen (not seen) during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021. WOLFGANG RATTAY / AFP / POOL
Denmark’s players gather as paramedics attend to midfielder Christian Eriksen (not seen) during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group B football match between Denmark and Finland at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on June 12, 2021. WOLFGANG RATTAY / AFP / POOL

 

England launched their bid for Euro 2020 glory with a 1-0 win over Croatia on Sunday as Denmark’s team doctor confirmed Christian Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and was “gone” before being resuscitated.

Raheem Sterling scored at a sun-baked Wembley as England won their opening game of a European Championship finals for the first time at the 10th attempt.

But the action on the pitch was overshadowed by the fallout from the shocking events in Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium the previous day.

Inter Milan star Eriksen suddenly collapsed in the 43rd minute of Denmark’s Group B game against Finland, lying motionless as medics administered CPR and the crowd looked on aghast.

The game was temporarily suspended awaiting updates on Eriksen’s health, but resumed later in the evening after reports filtered through that the player was in a stable condition and awake. It ended in a 1-0 win for debutants Finland.

“He was gone, and we did cardiac resuscitation, and it was cardiac arrest,” team doctor Morten Boesen told a press conference on Sunday, adding that so far there was no explanation for what had happened.

“How close were we? I don’t know. We got him back after one defib (defibrillation), so that’s quite fast.”

Players in the Danish team were given the option to continue the game or postpone the match but head coach Kasper Hjulmand said he regretted the decision to carry on.

“I honestly don’t think that we should have been on the pitch again,” he said.

Denmark forward Martin Braithwaite called the incident “one of the scariest moments of my life”.

“I’m grateful that he’s stable and alive. Right now, that’s all that matters. Hope to see you soon my friend,” he tweeted.

READ ALSO: Lukaku Urges Eriksen To ‘Stay Strong’ As Belgium Make Winning Start To Euro 2020

England make winning start

England’s forward Raheem Sterling (C) celebrates scoring his team’s first goal with England’s midfielder Kalvin Phillips (L)e during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on June 13, 2021. Glyn KIRK / POOL / AFP

 

Manchester City’s Sterling scored his first goal at a major tournament as England gained a measure of revenge for their 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia.

The forward’s sharp finish in the second half was enough for the home side to send the Wembley crowd home happy.

Sterling grew up in the shadow of London’s Wembley and justified manager Gareth Southgate’s decision to keep faith with him by scoring the only goal just before the hour.

“I always said if I played at Wembley in a major tournament, I’m scoring. I had to score in my back garden and delighted to do that,” he told the BBC.

Southgate said: “I’m so pleased for Raheem, he’s had this hex in the tournaments. I felt he was dangerous all day. Right from the start he looked a threat.”

England’s coach Gareth Southgate embraces England’s forward Raheem Sterling as he leaves the pitch after being substituted during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Croatia at Wembley Stadium in London on June 13, 2021. Catherine Ivill / POOL / AFP

 

There were fears before the match that supporters would boo players for taking the knee to protest against racial injustice as they had done before pre-tournament friendlies.

There was a smattering of jeers from sections of the 22,500 crowd, but the majority cheered the gesture.

England, seeking to end a 55-year wait for a major trophy, are playing all three group games at their London home. If they top Group D they will also play there in the last 16, while London is also the venue for both semi-finals as well as the final on July 11.

The Netherlands, back at a major tournament for the first time since 2014, play Ukraine in Amsterdam on Sunday, deprived of the services of the long-term injury absentee Virgil van Dijk but still able to call on a wealth of talent including Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong.

Ukraine’s pre-match preparations have been marred by a row with Russia over their jersey that features patriotic slogans and the outline of Ukraine that includes Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

North Macedonia lost 3-1 to Austria in their first match in a major tournament as an independent nation in Bucharest, despite an equaliser from 37-year-old captain Goran Pandev.

The coronavirus, which delayed the tournament for a year, is still proving a major headache.

Portugal defender Joao Cancelo has tested positive for Covid-19 and is out of Euro 2020, the defending champions announced.

Diogo Dalot has replaced the Manchester City right-back in the Portuguese squad, with the titleholders opening their Group F campaign against Hungary in Budapest on Tuesday.

The Russian, Spanish and Swedish squads have also been hit by positive tests.

World Cup holders France — with Karim Benzema recalled from a five-and-a-half-year international exile — are the favourites to win the continental crown.

They begin their campaign against Germany in Munich on Tuesday, also in Group F.

AFP

Djokovic Conquers ‘Everest’, Eyes 52-Year Landmark At French Open

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning against Spain's Rafael Nadal at the end of their men's singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning against Spain’s Rafael Nadal at the end of their men’s singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic can become the first man in 52 years to win all four Grand Slam titles twice in the French Open final on Sunday after conquering Rafael Nadal, the ‘Mount Everest’ of Roland Garros.

World number one Djokovic takes on Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas for the title with tennis history on the line.

Victory for the Serb will take him alongside Roy Emerson and Rod Laver as the only men to capture the four majors more than once.

It’s an achievement that has proved even beyond the capabilities of Nadal and Roger Federer.

It is so rare an accomplishment that it hasn’t happened since 1969 when Laver completed his second calendar Grand Slam.

Djokovic can pocket a 19th Slam with victory and move just one behind the record of 20 jointly held by Nadal and Federer.

Djokovic insists there will be no letdown physically or emotionally after reaching the final in Paris for a sixth time with an epic triumph over 13-time champion Nadal.

“It’s not the first time that I play an epic semi-final in a Grand Slam and then I have to come back in less than 48 hours and play finals,” said the 34-year-old.

“My recovery abilities have been pretty good throughout my career.”

His four-hour, four-set battle with Nadal is already jostling for a prime spot in the list of “greatest ever matches” at the Slams.

– ‘Never believed’ –

It featured a lung-busting 92-minute third set and required government intervention to allow the 5,000 fans inside Court Philippe Chatrier to watch the match’s conclusion despite it extending beyond the 11pm Covid-19 curfew.

The 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 triumph gave Djokovic the honour of being the only man to have beaten Nadal in Paris more than once, having first achieved it in the 2015 quarter-finals.

Nadal has only lost three times in 108 matches since his title-winning debut in 2005.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion, said it was his best win in Paris and ranked it among his “three greatest” ever performances.

“It’s hard to find words bigger than all the superlatives you can think of for Rafa’s achievements at Roland Garros,” said Djokovic who now leads their series 30-28 and had lost three finals in the French capital to Nadal.

“Each time you step on the court with him, you know that you have to kind of climb Mount Everest to win against this guy here.”

Djokovic has already admitted he’s a fan of Tsitsipas, proclaiming him as a Grand Slam champion in the making.

“He is a hard worker, dedicated, nice guy,” said Djokovic.

“He’s very smart and wise. I love the fact that he is more than just a tennis player and he’s always looking to learn from experience and to understand something new about himself.

“That’s the trait of a champion.”

Djokovic will be playing in his 29th Slam final on Sunday.

He holds a 5-2 record over Tsitsipas, a run which includes all three meetings on clay.

At last year’s Roland Garros, Djokovic won their semi-final over five sets.

“We played an epic five-setter last year in the semis here. I know it’s going to be another tough one,” added Djokovic who also defeated Tsitsipas in Rome on the eve of the French Open.

“I’m hoping I can recharge my batteries as much as I can because I’m going to need some power and energy for that one.”

Tsitsipas, 22, and 12 years younger than the Serb, is in his first Slam final having ended a run of three semi-final losses by defeating Alexander Zverev over five sets on Friday.

Victory on Sunday would make him the first Greek player to win a Slam title.

He would also become the youngest champion in Paris since Nadal in 2008 and overall at the Slams since Juan Martin del Potro at the 2009 US Open.

“I’ve never believed, have never really thought at what age this achievement might come,” said Tsitsipas.

“But I’m really happy with myself. I think I’ve shown good discipline so far. I’ve been progressive.”

Tsitsipas is the hottest player on tour in 2021 with a season-leading 39 wins.

Twenty-two of those have come on clay and have reaped a Masters title in Monte Carlo as well as Lyon.

Tsitsipas also had a match point in the Barcelona final against eventual champion Nadal.

“There is the final on Sunday, which is exciting. I’m looking forward to leaving my entire body on the court,” said the Greek who knocked out second seed Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals.

Djokovic Defeats 13-Time Champion Nadal In Epic French Open Semi-Final

Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning against Spain's Rafael Nadal at the end of their men's singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning against Spain’s Rafael Nadal at the end of their men’s singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic handed 13-time champion Rafael Nadal only his third defeat in 16 years and 108 matches at the French Open on Friday to reach his sixth Roland Garros final in an epic showdown which even beat the country’s Covid-19 curfew.

In their 58th career clash, Djokovic triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2 and stays on course to capture a 19th major and become the first man in over 50 years to win all four Slams twice.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion in Paris who had also beaten Nadal at the 2015 tournament, will face Stefanos Tsitsipas in Sunday’s final in what will be his 29th championship match at the Slams.

Tsitsipas had earlier become the first Greek to reach a Grand Slam final with a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Germany’s Alexander Zverev.

Nadal, 35, who would have been the oldest finalist at the French Open in the modern era, remains tied on 20 majors with Roger Federer.

“It was a privilege to face Rafa in such an incredible match,” said Djokovic after four hours and 11 minutes of intense action.

“Tonight it was my greatest ever match in Paris.”

It was his second win in eight meetings in Paris with Nadal, a sequence which also included three losses in finals.

It was Nadal’s first defeat in 14 semi-finals in the French capital.

“Probably it was not my best day today, even if I fought,” said Nadal.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I had a big chance. There were some crazy points but there was fatigue there.”

Djokovic finished with 50 winners; Nadal committed 55 unforced errors under the relentless assault.

Djokovic had two break points in the opening game of the first set which stretched to 10 minutes but was unable to convert.

Curfew-buster

Nadal made him pay, sprinting away for a 5-0 lead before the top seed got on the board.

Djokovic clung on, retrieving one break to get to 2-5 but Nadal eventually prevailed after one hour on court even if he required seven set points to edge ahead.

As a sign of the tension of the occasion, Nadal complained to chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore that he needed more time to collect his towel.

Djokovic aired his bemusement at the amount of clay on the baselines.

Spain's Rafael Nadal serves the ball to Serbia's Novak Djokovic during their men's singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP
Spain’s Rafael Nadal serves the ball to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during their men’s singles semi-final tennis match on Day 13 of The Roland Garros 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on June 11, 2021. Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP

 

The old rivals exchanged breaks in the second and third games of a big-hitting second set but it was Djokovic who repeated the feat for a 4-2 lead before levelling the tie.

Twice in the third set Djokovic edged ahead, only to be reeled back in by Nadal who broke back in the 10th game as the world number one served for the set.

Djokovic then had to save a set point with an ice-cool drop shot in the 12th game.

“You cannot play better clay court tennis than this. It’s perfect,” tweeted Andy Murray.

A 92-minute third set ended with Djokovic taking the tiebreak.

In a further twist on a dramatic evening, the 5,000 spectators inside Court Philippe Chatrier were allowed to watch the conclusion of the match despite it passing the 11pm Covid-19 curfew.

“In agreement with the national authorities, the match will come to an end in your presence,” said a stadium announcer told delighted fans.

Nadal then broke in the first game of the fourth set but Djokovic levelled for 2-2 and broke again for 4-2.

He finished it off on a second match point when Nadal hit wide and long.

Chapter 58 Of ‘Historic Rivalry’ For Djokovic, Nadal At French Open

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (R) greets Serbia’s Novak Djokovic after defeating him in the final of the Men’s Italian Tennis Open at Foro Italico on May 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

 

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal clash for the 58th time in their “historic rivalry” on Friday on the same court where they first met 15 years ago with a place in the French Open final at stake.

It is tennis’s greatest modern match-up between two men who have harvested 38 Grand Slam titles and 72 Masters between them.

Djokovic has spent more weeks at world number one than any other player while 13-time French Open winner Nadal has not been out of the top 10 in 16 years.

Nadal will start Friday’s semi-final as favourite, buoyed by his record of 105 wins and just two losses in his Roland Garros career.

The 35-year-old also has the edge over Djokovic on clay with a 19-7 career lead and 7-1 in Paris.

Djokovic hasn’t beaten Nadal on the surface since Rome in 2016.

He can, however, boast being one of only two men to have defeated Nadal in Paris, in the quarter-finals in 2015.

“It’s a well-anticipated semi-final and here we are,” said Djokovic of a rivalry which started on Court Philippe Chatrier in 2006.

“We had some battles over the years on this court.”

Nadal defeated 2016 champion Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s final, the Serb’s third loss in the championship match in Paris to the Spaniard.

There is plenty at stake on Friday as the two rivals close in on Sunday’s final.

Djokovic can win a 19th Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 — and only the third in history — to win all four Slams twice.

Victory for Nadal would give him a record-setting 21st major, breaking a tie with Roger Federer.

“The vibes are different walking on the court with him,” added Djokovic, who is in his 40th Grand Slam semi-final. “But that’s why our rivalry has been historic.”

It’s been a topsy-turvy tournament for Djokovic.

After racing through the first three rounds, he had to come back from two sets down to defeat Italian 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.

In the quarter-finals, he dropped the third set against Matteo Berrettini.

With the exception of a second-set blip in the quarter-finals against Diego Schwartzman, Nadal has reached his 14th semi-final relatively unscathed.

But despite his clay court stranglehold on Djokovic, Nadal isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.

– ‘Ego tells me more’ –
“It is a semi-final, not a final. That’s a big difference,” said the Spanish star who could become the oldest man to make the final in Paris.

The latest chapter of Djokovic v Nadal has overshadowed Friday’s other semi-final between Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany.

They have met seven times but just once on clay in Madrid in 2019 when Tsitsipas triumphed.

The 22-year-old Tsitsipas is in his third successive semi-final at the Slams and took Djokovic to five sets in the last four at Roland Garros in 2020.

He arrived in Paris with clay court titles this year in Monte Carlo and Lyon and had a match point to beat Nadal in the Barcelona final.

“I feel privileged that I’m in this position (of reaching three Slam semis). I’ve put in a lot of daily hard work and that has been a key element of me being here,” said Tsitsipas.

“But you know, my ego tells me I want more.”

Zverev is in his first semi-final at Roland Garros having almost fallen at the first hurdle against 152nd-ranked compatriot Oscar Otte.

“It’s nice that I didn’t play Rafa or Novak in the quarter-finals,” admitted Zverev.

“I think playing Rafa here in the finals, for example, is even worse. It’s even more difficult. But I also got to get there first.”

Whoever makes it to Sunday’s final will have their work cut out.

Tsitsipas is 2-7 against Nadal and 2-5 playing Djokovic.

Zverev is 3-6 when taking on Nadal and 2-6 facing Djokovic.

Djokovic Battles To Victory As He Warms Up For French Open

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 07, 2006 Serbia Montenegro’s Novak Djokovic returns the ball to Spain’s Rafael Nadal during the quarter-finals of the French tennis Open at Roland Garros in Paris. . (Photo by Christophe SIMON / AFP)

 

 

Novak Djokovic edged to a straight-sets win over German lucky loser Mats Moraing on Tuesday in his opener in Belgrade where the world number one is warming up for the French Open.

The clay-court Grand Slam starts in Paris on Sunday, and Djokovic opted for extra match practice on home soil this week.

The 34-year-old was made to fight by the world number 253, winning 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) in an hour and 40 minutes.

It was Djokovic’s first match since losing the Italian Open final to Rafael Nadal nine days ago.

Spaniard Nadal will be the favourite to win a 14th French Open crown next month, although Djokovic will be chasing a 19th Grand Slam title to move within one of Nadal and Federer on the all-time men’s list.

The Serbian star was in strong form in the opening set on Tuesday, but was broken twice by Moraing in the second before clinching the win in a tie-break.

“I was twice a break up in the second set so I maybe could have finished out the job earlier, but credit to him for fighting, for playing really well, for playing very courageous, very bold tennis,” Djokovic said.

“I felt pretty nervous from the start,” said Djokovic. “I had an opponent that doesn’t have much experience, but he played like he spent 10 years playing at top level.

“The second set was exhausting, I’m mentally spent. I have a day to recover and move on to the next match.”

He will next face Argentinian Federico Coria, the younger brother of former Roland Garros runner-up Guillermo Coria, in the quarter-finals.

Nadal, Djokovic Eye History At Roland Garros

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (R) greets Serbia’s Novak Djokovic after defeating him in the final of the Men’s Italian Tennis Open at Foro Italico on May 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will set their sights on more Grand Slam history at Roland Garros as the French Open embraces a new and eerily empty era of nighttime tennis.

A 14th title in Paris for Nadal would take him to a record-setting 21st major, surpassing the mark he shares with Roger Federer who has already written off his hopes of adding to his lone success in the French capital back in 2009.

Djokovic, the champion in 2016, can move to 19 Grand Slam titles with victory.

That would make the world number one the first man in over half a century to win all four majors on multiple occasions.

Nadal arrives in Paris buoyed by having defeated Djokovic in the Rome Masters final in what was the pair’s 57th meeting.

It was Nadal’s 10th title in the Italian capital.

Not that he was reading too much into the statistics as far as Roland Garros is concerned.

“I think I can work on a couple of things that I can do a little bit better,” he insisted.

 ‘Work right way’

“I just need to keep going. I know what I need to work on and I’m going to do it. Work, relax mentally, and work the right way.”

At last year’s delayed Roland Garros, Nadal swept past Djokovic in straight sets in the final.

It was Nadal’s 100th win at the tournament against just two losses since his 2005 title-winning debut.

Giving Djokovic hope, however, is the knowledge that he was responsible for one of those losses, in the 2015 quarter-finals.

He is also a four-time runner-up although three of those defeats in the championship match came against the Spaniard.

Only two men have previously managed to win all four of the Slams on more than one occasion — Roy Emerson and Rod Laver of Australia.

Laver’s achievement came back in 1969.

“I think I have a good chance to go all the way in Paris, but of course it’s a long shot,” said Djokovic who captured the season’s first Grand Slam title in Australia for a ninth time in February.

Federer, with his 40th birthday fast approaching, remains the sentimental favourite but his priority will be an assault on Wimbledon where he has been champion eight times.

-Chasing pack

“I’m not so sure in the last 50 years of the French Open, somebody just rocks up at nearly 40 years old, being out for a year and a half, and wins everything straight,” said Federer after losing his only clay-court match this year in Geneva last week.

Of the chasing pack, two-time runner-up Dominic Thiem is low on form and confidence.

A run to the Madrid semi-finals was followed by a straight sets defeat to Cameron Norrie in his Lyon opener.

World number two Daniil Medvedev has yet to win a match at Roland Garros in four attempts.

In Rome, he fell at the first hurdle and half-jokingly pleaded with the referee to disqualify him such is his dislike for clay.

World number five Stefanos Tsitsipas is the most likely man to upset the odds of Nadal and Djokovic again making the final.

The 22-year-old Greek won the prestigious Monte Carlo clay-court title in April, had match point before losing the Barcelona final to Nadal, and then lifted the Lyon trophy.

He has beaten Nadal on clay in Madrid in 2019 and stretched Djokovic to five sets at the 2020 French Open semi-finals.

This year’s Roland Garros will be the second taking place under the shadow of the coronavirus.

Just over 5,000 fans a day will be allowed on site until June 9 when that figure rises to 13,000.

For the first time this year, there will be nine evening sessions at the tournament.

However, a Covid-19 curfew from 9 pm means that eight of those sessions will be played out inside an empty Court Philippe Chatrier.

-AFP

Italian Open: Nadal Beats Djokovic To Win 10th Rome Title

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates after defeating Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during the final of the Men’s Italian Tennis Open at Foro Italico on May 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy. Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal beat world number one Novak Djokovic to win a 10th Italian Open title on Sunday and set down a key marker two weeks out from the defence of his Roland Garros crown.

Second seed Nadal won through 7-5, 1-6, 6-3 in 2hr 49min against the defending champion in the 57th career showdown between the pair.

“It’s amazing I have this trophy in my hands for a 10th time, something impossible to imagine,” said the world number three who also equalled Djokovic’s record of 36 ATP Masters 1000 titles in his 12th Rome final.

“I remember the first final I won here in Rome back in 2005 against (Guillermo) Coria which lasted five hours,” recalled the 34-year-old of his five-set battle past the Argentine.

READ ALSO: Swiatek Crushes Pliskova To Win Italian Open

Djokovic and Nadal were facing each other for the 57th time, having last played in the 2020 French Open final which the Spaniard won in straight sets.

The pair have won 15 of the last 17 Rome titles between them, while Nadal leads their head-to-head in finals in the Italian capital 4-2.

“I really wanted this title. This had been one of the most important titles in my career. I’d won 10 in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Roland Garros and really wanted it here too,” added Nadal.

Despite losing his opening service game Nadal broke back in the third game hitting twice as many winners as the Serb with 21 in the set.

A dip in form in the second set allowed Djokovic to break twice and get back into the game.

But Nadal got back on track in the third with Djokovic having played nearly five hours on court on Saturday between his rain-delayed quarter-finals and semi-final matches.

 

Spain’s Rafael Nadal (R) greets Serbia’s Novak Djokovic after defeating him in the final of the Men’s Italian Tennis Open at Foro Italico on May 16, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

 

The Spaniard saved two break points on his serve in the fifth game and broke for love for 4-2.

Djokovic saved a first match point in the eighth game but Nadal made no mistake on his second chance in the following to seal his 88th career title after winning in Barcelona earlier this month.

“It doesn’t get a bigger challenge than playing in the final against Rafa,” said five-time Rome winner Djokovic, who leads their overall head-to-head 29-28.

“Overall three hours of high quality tennis. I’m disappointed not to win, but pleased with my level.

“Going into Paris it’s a good sensation. I feel like I want to feel on clay. If I play like I did last night and today I think I have a shot in Paris.

“I’ll play in Belgrade and then go to Paris ready to rock and roll.”

Nadal has now won 10 or more titles at a single event for the fourth time, after Roland Garros (13), Barcelona (12) and Monte Carlo (11).

The French Open gets underway in Paris on May 30 where Nadal will be chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Djokovic, the 2016 champion at Roland Garros, will be hoping to become the first man in over half a century and just the third in history to win all four majors more than once.

AFP