Nadal Wins Thriller To Join Djokovic In Rome Last Eight As Fans Return

Spain’s Rafael Nadal celebrates winning against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin during their 2021 ATP Tour Madrid Open tennis tournament singles match at the Caja Magica in Madrid on May 6, 2021. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

 

Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal reached the quarter-finals of the Italian Open in contrasting styles on Thursday as spectators returned to the stands for the first time in Italy.

Nadal and Djokovic have won 14 of the last 16 Rome titles between them, playing each other in the final five times.

World number one Djokovic needed just 70 minutes to sweep past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-2, 6-1.

But nine-time champion Nadal had to save two match points against Canada’s Denis Shapovalov in a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) battle over nearly 3hr 30min.

“To be able to win these kind of matches against young players gives me confidence with my body,” said 34-year-old Nadal, who has fallen early in two clay-court Masters tournaments in Monte Carlo and Madrid ahead of Roland Garros.

Nadal will next play either Germany’s Alexander Zverev, the sixth seed, or Japan’s Kei Nishikori for a place in the semi-finals.

Nadal lost to Zverev, 24, in the Madrid Masters quarter-finals last week.

Defending champion Djokovic, a five-time Rome winner, next plays Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in a rematch of last year’s French Open semi-final which the Serbian won.

Fifth seed Tsitsipas ended the run of home hope Matteo Berrettini 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in one hour and 36 minutes.

“It always feels like home coming back to Rome,” said Djokovic, who has never failed to reach the quarter-finals in his 15 appearances in the clay-court event.

“Each year the love affair grows even more because the bond is stronger and stronger.

“Hopefully I can feel a little bit of that love more tomorrow so I can keep on progressing in the tournament.”

– ‘Establish control’ –

After losing his opening service game, Djokovic powered back with five breaks of serve, outclassing his rival, despite a late fightback, to seal the win on his sixth match point.

“He started well, but I managed to break back straight away and establish the control and consistency,” said the 18-time Grand Slam winner.

“I thought I played at least 20-30 percent better than on Monday. I am on a good trajectory and hopefully tomorrow will be even better.”

Spaniard Nadal will be making his 16th last-eight appearance in Rome. It will also be his 97th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.

Nadal trailed by 0-4 in the opening set, and 0-3 in the second.

Shapovalov also broke for 3-1 in the third set but Nadal broke back immediately and held on despite two match points against him in the 12th game to force a tie-break.

Nadal’s experience in the high-pressure moments paid off against the 22-year-old who had beaten him in their first meeting in Montreal in 2017.

For Shapovalov it was a “tough loss” with only “one or two points” the difference in the clash of left-handers.

“It’s just a tough loss but who’s going to give me crap for losing to Rafa?” said the Canadian who won his only ATP title in Stockholm in 2019.

– ‘Not yet normal’ –

American Reilly Opelka advanced to his second Masters 1000 quarter-final with a 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 victory against in-form Russian Aslan Karatsev.

The 23-year-old hit 18 aces and saved two set points at 4/6 in the first-set tie-break to set up a meeting with Argentina’s Federico Delbonis in the last eight.

Meanwhile, fans were happy to return after more than a year without live sport.

“After all this time it’s good to be able to watch live sport,” said Alessandro Cimini, one of the first to arrive at the Foro Italico with his son to watch Djokovic and Nadal.

“We bought tickets in January 2020 and we can finally come! On the one hand I’m happy it feels good after all we’ve been through even if obviously it’s not yet back to normal on centre court,” added another tennis fan, Rosy De Luigi, who travelled from San Marino.

Football’s Italian Cup final in Reggio Emilio next Wednesday will also have a limited crowd, followed by Euro 2020 matches at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

AFP

No. 1 Djokovic Joins Nadal, Federer In Skipping Miami

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 21, 2021 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates a point against Russia’s Daniil Medvedev during their men’s singles final match on day fourteen of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.  AFP

 

World number one Novak Djokovic said Friday he won’t be playing at the ATP Miami Open, joining fellow Grand Slam legends Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in skipping next week’s event.

The 33-year-old Serbian star won his 18th Grand Slam singles crown and ninth Australian Open singles title last month.

That puts him third on the all-time men’s list behind the 20 Slam titles owned by Swiss star Federer and Spaniard Nadal, who will try to defend his French Open title in the next Slam showdown on the red clay of Roland Garros.

“Dear fans, I’m very sorry to announce that this year I won’t travel to Miami to compete,” Djokovic tweeted Friday.

Djokovic, a six-time Miami champion, cited the global travel issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and his desire to balance events and family life.

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“I decided to use this precious time at home to stay with my family,” he said. “With all restrictions, I need to find balance in my time on tour and at home. I look forward to coming back next year!”

Federer won the most recent Miami Open title in 2019, his fourth career trophy at the event, with the tournament being called off last year due to the outbreak of the deadly virus. He wanted to work on his fitness ahead of the other majors later this season.

Nadal, a 34-year-old left-hander, has not played since being ousted from last month’s Australian Open quarter-finals by Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“Sad to announce that I won’t be playing in Miami, a city that I love,” Nadal tweeted earlier this month. “I need to fully recover and get ready for the clay-court season in Europe.”

Nadal seeks a fifth consecutive French Open title and 14th career crown at Roland Garros. He has never won the Miami crown, dropping five finals.

AFP

Djokovic Sets All-Time Record For Weeks At World No. 1

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates his match point against Canada’s Milos Raonic during their men’s singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 14, 2021. William WEST / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic set a new landmark of 311 weeks as world number one on Monday, one week longer than Roger Federer whose tally of a record 20 Grand Slam titles is now firmly in the Serb’s sights.

“Big day today,” the tennis superstar wrote on Twitter.

Djokovic, 33, won his 18th major at the Australian Open in February.

With Federer turning 40 in August, the Serb has time on his side. He is a year younger than Rafael Nadal who also has 20 majors.

“It really excites me to walk the path of legends and giants of this sport,” said Djokovic, in a statement released by the ATP whose rankings have been running since August 23, 1973.

“To know that I earned my place among them by following my childhood dream is a beautiful confirmation that when you do things out of love and passion, everything is possible.”

Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-end number one for the sixth time, tying the record set by Pete Sampras.

ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: “Novak’s many achievements in tennis are nothing short of extraordinary. Among them this record may stand as his single most impressive.

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“Reaching No. 1 is something many players dream of and very few ever accomplish, and to have held the top spot for longer than anyone is testament to the levels of sustained excellence that Novak has redefined in our sport.”

Federer, who returns to action in Doha this week after more than a year out of action to recover from two knee operations, slipped out of the top five on Monday to sixth. His place was taken by Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Djokovic made his top 100 debut in July 2005, just weeks after Nadal had won his first Roland Garros.

He was top 50 in June 2006, top 20 for the first time in October 2006 and top 10 by March 2007.

He first became world number one at the age of 24 on July 4, 2011, the day after winning Wimbledon for the first time, beating Nadal in the final.

Only a six-month injury absence in 2017 saw his ranking plunge, all the way to 22 the following summer.

It was just a blip — Djokovic was back at number one again by November and with the exception of November 2019 until January last year, when Nadal reclaimed pole position, he has been rock solid.

Few would bet against Djokovic, who in 2016 was the first man to break the $100 million prize money barrier, ending his career with more Slams than Federer and Nadal.

In head-to-heads, he leads Federer 27-23 and has won all six of their last meetings at the majors, including 2019’s epic Wimbledon final where he saved two match points.

Djokovic’s record was top news in his native Serbia on Monday, with headlines like “No one was ever like Nole” in daily newspaper Vecernje novosti.

Videos of the most important moments of his career will be projected onto Belgrade town hall on Monday evening, and the capital’s authorities called on fans to gather and honour Djokovic despite the pandemic measures.

ATP top 20 as of March 8:

1. Novak Djokovic (SRB) 12,030 points

2. Rafael Nadal (ESP) 9,850

3. Daniil Medvedev (RUS) 9,735

4. Dominic Thiem (AUT) 9,125

5. Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) 6,660 (+1)

6. Roger Federer (SUI) 6,630 (-1)

7. Alexander Zverev (GER) 5,615

8. Andrey Rublev (RUS) 5,019

9. Diego Schwartzman (ARG) 3,640

10. Matteo Berrettini (ITA) 3,480

11. Denis Shapovalov (CAN) 2,910

12. Gael Monfils (FRA) 2,860

13. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP) 2,770

14. David Goffin (BEL) 2,760

15. Milos Raonic (CAN) 2,630

16. Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) 2,585

17. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL) 2,575

18. Fabio Fognini (ITA) 2,535

19. Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) 2,516

20. Stan Wawrinka (SUI) 2,365

AFP

Djokovic Takes Federer’s World Number One Record, Eyes Grand Slam History

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Russia’s Aslan Karatsev in their men’s singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021. (Photo by Brandon MALONE / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic will on Monday set a new landmark of 311 weeks as world number one, surpassing Roger Federer whose hold on a record-equalling 20 Grand Slam titles is now firmly in the Serb’s sights.

The 33-year-old Djokovic, already the winner of 18 majors, has time on his side with Federer turning 40 in August.

He is also a year younger than Rafael Nadal who also has 20 majors.

“Now that I’ve become the historic No.1, I’m relieved,” said Djokovic after sweeping to a ninth Australian Open last month which guaranteed his extended stay at the top.

“Now, I’m going to be able to focus mainly on the Grand Slams.”

Djokovic reclaimed the top ranking from Nadal in February 2020 and finished as year-end number one for the sixth time, tying the mark set by Pete Sampras.

He is currently in his fifth different spell atop the rankings.

Nadal, currently at number two, has been at the top for ‘only’ 209 weeks in total although the 13-time Roland Garros champion can boast being a top 10 ever-present since April 2005.

He will, however, lose his world number two spot to Daniil Medvedev a week on Monday.

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Federer, who returns to action in Doha next week after more than a year out of action to recover from two knee surgeries, will slip out of the top five on Monday.

Djokovic made his top 100 debut in July 2005, just weeks after Nadal had won his first Roland Garros.

He was top 50 in June 2006, top 20 for the first time in October 2006 and top 10 by March 2007.

He first became world number one at the age of 24 on July 4, 2011, the day after winning Wimbledon for the first time, beating Nadal in the final.

– Brief dip and swift return –

Only a six-month injury absence in 2017 saw his ranking plunge, all the way to 22 the following summer.

It was just a blip — Djokovic was back at number one again by November and with the exception of November 2019 until January last year, when Nadal reclaimed pole position, he has been rock solid.

Few would bet against Djokovic, who in 2016 was the first man to break the $100 million prize money barrier, ending his career with more Slams than Federer and Nadal.

In head-to-heads, he leads Federer 27-23 and has won all six of their last meetings at the majors, including 2019’s epic Wimbledon final where he saved two match points.

Federer hasn’t beaten Djokovic at the Slams since Wimbledon in 2012.

Against Nadal, he has a 29-27 lead and is still one of only two men to have beaten the Spaniard at Roland Garros since 2005.

At least Nadal, however, can boast comfortably seeing off Djokovic in the 2020 Roland Garros final, denying the Serb the opportunity to become the first man in half a century to win all four Slams more than once.

Djokovic, whose lone French Open title came in 2016, has comfortably more Australian Opens than Federer (six) and Nadal (one).

His Wimbledon total stands at five to Federer’s eight and Nadal’s two.

At the US Open, he has three to Federer’s five and Nadal’s four.

“Obviously I have in my mind to win more Grand Slam titles and to break records.

“Until I retire from the tour, I will be devoting most of my attention and energy to winning the other major titles,” Djokovic said.

Djokovic Beats Medvedev To Win Ninth Australian Open

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Russia’s Aslan Karatsev in their men’s singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021. (Photo by Brandon MALONE / AFP)

 

Peerless world number one Novak Djokovic demolished Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to win his ninth Australian Open title and extend his record-breaking reign at Melbourne Park Sunday.

Djokovic overpowered the fourth seed 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in front of 7,400 fans on Rod Laver Arena to end the Russian’s unbeaten run at 20 matches.

In winning a third straight Australian Open for the second time, the Serb claimed his 18th Grand Slam title to move within two of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who have 20 each, while denying Medvedev his first.

Rarely has a player been so dominant at a single tournament with the Serb’s record-extending ninth title moving him past Federer’s eight at Wimbledon but still a long way behind the 13 Nadal has won at Roland Garros.

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But it was a rollercoaster ride to get there, with Djokovic dropping five sets en route to the final and battling an abdominal injury that nearly forced him to pull out after the third round.

Despite admitting it was a gamble to keep playing, with a risk the injury could get worse and affect the rest of his season, the 33-year-old chose to continue and it paid off.

Medvedev, 25, is one of the smartest players on tour, keeping his opponents guessing with his flat and low groundstrokes, changing up the pace and angles, as he blends impenetrable defence with opportunistic offence.

But the Serb, who held a 4-3 head-to-head record against him but had lost three of the previous four, had his measure.

– Wild backhand –

In front of a pro-Djokovic crowd, Medvedev overcooked two forehands on his opening service game then sent one into the net to hand the Serb the first break points, then a wild backhand saw him immediately on the back foot.

Djokovic consolidated with a serve to love before the Russian finally got off the mark with a wobbly hold for 1-3. But then a failed drop shot and net volley from the top seed allowed the Russian to break back.

Long rallies ensued and it went with serve until some brilliant groundstrokes from Djokovic earned three break points at 6-5. Medvedev saved two but not the third to lose the opening set.

Undeterred, the tall, pencil-thin Russian kept coming and dialed up the pressure to break Djokovic’s opening serve in set two, only for the Serb to immediately strike back.

Djokovic won three games in a row, despite the disruption of two fans being ejected in an apparent refugee protest, as he took control.

He raced to a 5-2 lead with Medvedev smashing his racquet in frustration as the set and the championship began slipping away.

Deflated, Medvedev dropped his opening serve in set three and never looked like finding a way back as Djokovic, in his 28th Grand Slam final compared to the Russian’s second, drew on his experience to close out the match, dropping to the court in celebration.

The win reinforced Djokovic’s status as world number one, where he will mark his 311th week when the new rankings come out on Monday, surpassing Federer’s record of 310.

Medvedev will move to a career-high three in the rankings, behind Nadal.

‘Best I’ve Felt’ – Djokovic Fires Warning As He Ends Karatsev Dream

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates beating Russia’s Aslan Karatsev in their men’s singles semi-final match on day eleven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 18, 2021. (Photo by Brandon MALONE / AFP)

 

Eight-time champion Novak Djokovic said he was peaking just at the right time Thursday after ending the dream run of Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev to reach his ninth Australian Open final.

The 33-year-old Serb, showing no ill-effects from an abdomen injury sustained in the third round, overwhelmed the 114th-ranked Karatsev 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 53 minutes to reach his 28th Grand Slam final.

“This is the best I’ve felt in the entire tournament,” said Djokovic, who hit 30 winners and 17 aces.

“I could swing through the ball. No pain. The best match so far.”

He added: “Couldn’t be better timing for me to play my best tennis.”

Djokovic, 33, who has never lost an Australian Open final, is one win away from his 18th Grand Slam trophy, snapping at the heels of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who are on 20.

In his way will be fourth seed Daniil Medvedev or Nadal’s conqueror Stefanos Tsitsipas, the fifth seed, who play their semi-final on Friday.

“I’m going to take the popcorn and enjoy it,” he said. “I absolutely have zero preference.”

“I’m ready for the toughest match of the tournament… both of these guys are in great form,” he added.

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“Medvedev is playing extremely high quality. He is the player to beat.

“Tsitsipas produced some phenomenal tennis against Rafa.

“He’s definitely going in the right direction. He has no holes in his game.”

Djokovic remained cagey over his injury, which he first suspected being a torn muscle, saying he would only reveal its extent after the final.

But he said he planned to resume training on Saturday, after being unable to practise between matches because of the injury.

“I am surprised the way I felt tonight. I think it surpassed my greatest wishes,” he said.

“I just have… this pretty good ability to recover fast.”

– Butterfly battle –

Moving sharper than he has since he was injured while playing Taylor Fritz, Djokovic lifted his intensity in his best performance of the tournament.

Karatsev, however, wasn’t disgraced after becoming the first man in the Open era to reach a semi-final on his Grand Slam debut, and just the second qualifier to do so at the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977.

His magical run included wins over eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann, 20th seed Felix Auger-Aliassime and 18th seed Grigor Dimitrov, but came up short against the ultimate test.

A wary Djokovic had predicted Karatsev would come out aggressively and he proved right with the underdog undaunted in a free-wheeling approach.

Aside from being briefly menaced by a butterfly as he prepared to serve, Djokovic wasn’t rattled and his defensive mastery suffocated Karatsev in the eighth game.

He subsequently clinched the first set with an ace and then put the foot down to break to love.

Karatsev wouldn’t go away, almost wiping away Djokovic’s advantage before the eight-time champion held serve in a see-sawing 10th game and celebrated with gusto.

Despite some service struggles, Djokovic was not to be denied to record his first straight-sets victory since an opening-round romp against Jeremy Chardy.

Journeyman Karatsev, who spent a chunk of his youth in Israel, Germany and Spain, and had failed on nine previous occasions to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, is set to rocket to 42 on the ATP rankings.

Djokovic, Williams, Osaka Star In Australian Open Semi-Finals

A combination photo of Naomi Osaka, Novak Djokovic, and Serena Williams.

 

 

Novak Djokovic will look to stay on track for an 18th Grand Slam title, while Serena Williams has the formidable figure of Naomi Osaka blocking her path to a record-equalling 24th when the Australian Open semi-finals begin on Thursday.

Around 7,500 fans will be back on a reduced capacity Rod Laver Arena, after a five-day state coronavirus lockdown, but Djokovic will be in unknown territory in the night match against Russian qualifier Aslan Karatsev, who he has never played before.

The world number one, who has been hampered by an abdominal injury, confessed he had not seen much of the tournament’s surprise semi-finalist — who has already seen off three seeds — but that he wouldn’t take the world number 114 lightly.

“He’s impressed a lot of people with his movement and firepower from the baseline,” said Djokovic of Karatsev.

“He doesn’t have anything to lose, really. He’s motivated.”

Karatsev, who is guaranteed to rise into the world’s top 50, is the first man in the Open era to reach a semi-final on his Grand Slam debut, and just the second qualifier to do so at the Australian Open after Bob Giltinan in 1977.

Earlier Williams, the 10th seed, opens proceedings on Rod Laver against Osaka aiming to keep alive her dream of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam crown, wary of again falling victim to the Japanese superstar who beat her in the 2018 US Open final.

The winner will play for the championship on Saturday against either Czech 25th seed Karolina Muchova or American 22nd seed Jennifer Brady, who clash in the second semi-final on Melbourne Park’s main show court.

– ‘Bring my A-game’ –
Williams, 39, sits one behind Margaret Court’s elusive all-time mark of 24 majors after losing four Slam finals since her 2017 victory at Melbourne Park while pregnant.

One of those was the controversial 2018 US Open final defeat to Osaka, where the American star was docked a point and a game after losing her temper when warned about coaching.

Osaka was booed by some fans and was in tears during the awards ceremony, later calling what should have been her moment of glory “a little bittersweet”.

Williams said both players had reached “closure” on the painful moment, which has seen them inextricably linked ever since.

They have played each other just once since that New York meeting, in the quarter-finals of the 2019 Rogers Cup in Toronto which Williams won in straight sets.

Brady will face Muchova in the other semi-final, with a maiden Slam final guaranteed for one of them.

Muchova, fresh from her upset of top-ranked Ashleigh Barty on Wednesday, said she had noted Brady’s “very big strokes” in their one previous meeting, when she beat the American in Prague in 2019.

“So definitely going to be a tough battle,” she said of Brady, who toppled compatriot Jessica Pegula to make her second major semi-final after last year’s US Open.

“I think I will have to bring my A-game to play with her because she is really playing amazing matches, having a good season.”

 

Djokovic Plays Through Pain To Win 300th Grand Slam Match

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates his match point against Canada’s Milos Raonic during their men’s singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 14, 2021.
William WEST / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic clocked his 300th Grand Slam win Sunday, playing through pain from an abdominal injury that nearly forced him to pull out of the Australian Open to oust Milos Raonic and make the quarter-finals.

The world number one took to the court despite suggesting his title defence might be over on Friday after sustaining the injury in a thrilling five-setter against Taylor Fritz.

He battled on against giant Canadian Raonic on a fan-less Rod Laver Arena, grinding through 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to set up a clash with sixth seed Alexander Zverev.

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But Djokovic said if it wasn’t a Grand Slam, he would have pulled out.

“No preparations, basically, for this match. I used every single hour I had since the last match against Taylor to recover and put myself in a position where I have a possibility to compete,” he said.

“If it was any other tournament than a Grand Slam I would retire and withdraw,” he added.

“I didn’t know before I finished my warm up today, three hours before, whether I would play or not.”

– Thundering aces –
Djokovic’s win was his 300th at a Slam, only the second player in history to reach the mark after Roger Federer, on 362.

It kept him on track for an 18th Grand Slam title in his bid to close in on the 20 held by the Swiss great and Rafael Nadal, who plays on Monday.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic (L) fist bumps with Canada’s Milos Raonic after their men’s singles match on day seven of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 14, 2021.
William WEST / AFP

 

He has already won a record eight times in Melbourne, the scene of his maiden Slam triumph in 2008, where he remains unbeaten since his shock loss to South Korea’s Hyeon Chung in the 2018 round of 16.

Despite his injury struggles, Djokovic was always the favourite, having won all 11 of his previous encounters with the big-serving Canadian, dropping just three sets in the process.

But 14th seed Raonic is also extremely experienced at this level, having reached five quarter-finals or better at Melbourne Park over the past six year.

And he proved a tough opponent, sending down two thundering aces in the opening game to highlight his serving power, with some rockets clocking in at 223 kph.

Djokovic’s movement seemed unhindered and he finally worked his first break point in game six, but squandered it with a forehand into the net as Raonic held on.

He earned another in the eighth game but again failed to capitalise and it went to a tiebreaker where a wayward Raonic volley gave the Serb an early advantage and he didn’t look back.

Raonic’s right ankle was taped in a medical timeout at 1-2 in the second set, but he still broke Djokovic to go 4-2 ahead with a sizzling crosscourt forehand and took the set.

The Serb, though, was returning serve at a high percentage and he finally converted a break point when Raonic sent a forehand wide to take a 3-1 lead, and broke again to seal the third set.

It went with serve in the fourth set until Djokovic worked break points in the ninth game, finally converting on the third to move 5-4 ahead and serving out for the match.

AFP

Djokovic Passes Tiafoe Test, Serena Sublime At Australian Open

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates beating France’s Jeremy Chardy during their men’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 8, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

 

Eight-time champion Novak Djokovic was made to sweat at the Australian Open on Wednesday as Serena Williams made serene progress in her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title.

Women’s favourite Naomi Osaka also charged through but fellow major-winners Stan Wawrinka, Bianca Andreescu and Petra Kvitova were all second-round casualties.

Djokovic was given a stern examination by America’s Frances Tiafoe and dropped his first set of the tournament before recovering to win 6-3, 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/2), 6-3.

“I was fortunate to get through the third set today, it was anybody’s game,” said the defending champion, after his win in hot conditions on Rod Laver Arena.

The top seed looked in control after taking the first set, but lightning-quick Tiafoe, who reached the quarter-finals two years ago, refused to go quietly.

READ ALSO: Osaka Powers Past Garcia Into Australian Open Third Round

The American bounced back to take a close second set but imploded as tensions rose in the fourth, receiving a code violation for an audible obscenity as Djokovic took charge.

“I thought we both played on a pretty high level. I mean, he pushed me to the very limit,” said Djokovic.

The Serb is targeting a record-extending ninth title and his 18th Grand Slam trophy overall as he snaps at the heels of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who top the all-time list with 20 each.

He avoided the fate of 2014 winner Wawrinka, who blew three match points in the fifth-set tiebreaker in his four-hour epic with Marton Fucsovics, who won 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 7-6 (11/9).

“I had some chance to finish the match, I didn’t finish,” said the 35-year-old Swiss, a three-time Grand Slam winner.

“I hesitated a little bit when I had the match point and I lost it.”

– ‘Here to have fun’ –

Osaka, whose three Grand Slam titles include the 2019 Australian crown, had no such trouble in her evening match against France’s Caroline Garcia, winning 6-2, 6-3 in 61 minutes.

Earlier Williams, 39, continued her quest to equal Margaret Court’s all-time mark of 24 Grand Slams with a 6-3, 6-0 romp past 99th-ranked Serbian Nina Stojanovic.

Williams hit 27 winners in her 101st Australian Open match while again sporting her unique, one-legged catsuit inspired by track legend ‘Flo-Jo’.

“I’m here to have fun and it’s great to be playing in front of a crowd,” said the American great.

Serena Williams of the US reacts after a point against Germany’s Laura Siegemund during their women’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 8, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

 

With Australia virtually virus-free, the tournament is welcoming the biggest Grand Slam crowds since the pandemic, although attendances are well down on previous years.

Williams’ elder sister Venus, 40, was a major casualty on day three when she painfully rolled her ankle in the first set against Sara Errani before hobbling through a 6-1, 6-0 defeat.

And Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion who missed the entire 2020 season with a knee injury, saw her comeback come to an abrupt end 6-3, 6-2 against Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei.

“You need to find a way to get through and the crowd helped me fight,” said Hsieh after beating the Canadian, who was coming off a draining three-setter against Mihaela Buzarnescu.

Elsewhere Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion and Melbourne runner-up in 2019, committed 44 unforced errors in her 6-4, 1-6, 6-1 defeat to Romania’s Sorana Cirstea as the big names tumbled on day three.

However, reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem, runner-up to Djokovic last year, was all smiles as he beat Germany’s Dominik Koepfer 6-4, 6-0, 6-2.

“It was great, to be honest,” Thiem said of his performance on Margaret Court Arena.

Eighth seed Diego Schwartzmann of Argentina also hurried into the last 32, brushing aside Frenchman Alexandre Muller 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 in an hour and 32 minutes on 1573 Arena.

Germany’s volatile US Open finalist Alexander Zverev will close out the night session against America’s Maxime Cressy.

The tantrum-prone Nick Kyrgios could also provide fireworks out on his favourite John Cain Arena against France’s 29th seed Ugo Humbert.

Djokovic Imperious As Covid-Delayed Australian Open Finally Underway

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic hits a return against France’s Jeremy Chardy during their men’s singles match on day one of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on February 8, 2021. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)

 

Novak Djokovic served a reminder of why he is the greatest Australian Open champion in history as he demolished France’s Jeremy Chardy in straight sets in round one on Monday.

The eight-time winner’s 6-3, 6-1, 6-2 victory showed that normal service had resumed at Rod Laver Arena after the year’s first Grand Slam was delayed by three weeks over the coronavirus.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep also enjoyed convincing wins as the tournament finally got underway in front of limited crowds after a troubled build-up.

“It feels great, so great to see people back in the stadium,” Djokovic said. “This is the most I’ve seen on a tennis court in 12 months.”

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Form and fitness are highly unpredictable at the Australian Open after the coronavirus wiped out five months of last season and badly disrupted preparations for the first Grand Slam of 2021.

But Djokovic left little doubt about his readiness to pursue a record-extending ninth title in Melbourne, breaking in the first game and completing the victory in 91 minutes.

The Australian Open was postponed to allow players to quarantine and play warm-up events, which were suspended for a day last week after a coronavirus case at a tournament hotel.

After the tortuous build-up, third seed Osaka struck the first serve on the centre court against Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and strode just 68 minutes later as a 6-1, 6-2 winner.

“I was really nervous coming into this match. I just wanted to play well,” Osaka told a smattering of spectators on the socially-distanced court.

– ‘Vintage Serena’ –

Williams started her quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam in style with a 6-1, 6-1 romp past Germany’s Laura Siegemund in 56 minutes.

“This was a good start, it was vintage Serena,” said the 39-year-old, turning heads in a brightly coloured, one-legged catsuit.

Later, the 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu won an emotional first match after 15 months out against Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.

The 20-year-old Canadian last played at the WTA Finals in October 2019 at Shenzen, China, where she suffered the knee injury that scuppered her entire 2020 season.

French Open champion Iga Swiatek, 19, beat Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-3 to reach the second round and continue her Grand Slam winning streak.

But Angelique Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open winner, was the first significant casualty of the women’s championship when the 23rd-seeded German lost 6-0, 6-4 to 63rd-ranked American Bernarda Pera.

The tournament known as the “Happy Slam” for its relaxed atmosphere has taken on a different appearance this year with fewer spectators, mandatory mask-wearing and fans unable to circulate freely around the grounds.

Monday’s total attendance was 17,922 — a far cry from a year ago, when 64,387 came through the turnstiles on day one.

It’s the fourth Grand Slam tournament affected by the coronavirus after last year’s Wimbledon was cancelled, the French Open was postponed and the US Open was held behind closed doors.

– Racquet smash –

In the men’s draw, US Open champion Dominic Thiem was made to work hard in the first set by Kazakh veteran Mikhail Kukushkin before coming through 7-6 (7/2), 6-2, 6-3.

“He’s very experienced and the first set was super-challenging,” said Thiem, beaten by Djokovic in five epic sets in the Australian Open final last year.

Sixth seed Alexander Zverev dropped a set and smashed a racquet before grinding to a 6-7 (8/10), 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, 6-2 win against American Marcos Giron.

“He played incredible,” said the German, who lost to Thiem in the final in New York and the Melbourne semi-finals last year.

“He had me on the ropes, particularly in the second set tie-break.”

Australia’s Nick Kyrgios scored a point with a tweener as he beat Portuguese qualifier Frederico Ferreira Silva in straight sets.

Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion, reached the second round for a 16th straight time with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win against Portugal’s Paulo Sousa.

Milos Raonic, the 14th seed from Canada, also enjoyed serene progress through to the second round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 win over Federico Coria of Argentina, while Denis Shapovalov outlasted Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in five sets.

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov got through in three sets against Croatia’s Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open champion.

But Gael Monfils, the French 10th seed, was stunned 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 by Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland, the world number 86, in three hours and 46 minutes.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori also fell at the first hurdle with a straight-sets defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain.

Top women’s seed Ashleigh Barty, defending champion Sofia Kenin and 20-time men’s singles Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal all begin their challenge on Tuesday.

Djokovic Says Future Of Men’s Tennis In Good Hands

Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts as he beats Germany's Alexander Zverev in straight sets in their men's singles round-robin match on day six of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 20, 2020. Glyn KIRK / AFP
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic reacts as he beats Germany’s Alexander Zverev in straight sets in their men’s singles round-robin match on day six of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament at the O2 Arena in London on November 20, 2020. Glyn KIRK / AFP

 

World number one Novak Djokovic said the future of men’s tennis was in good hands Tuesday, praising the new generation for showing “courage and boldness” in their pursuit of Grand Slam glory.

Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have dominated the sport over the past 15 years, holding a vice-like grip on the major titles, with 57 between them.

But their reign is being threatened, with Dominic Thiem winning the US Open last year and the likes of Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas knocking on the door.

With the big three getting older, 17-time Grand Slam winner Djokovic said it was good to see the next generation performing well.

“It’s great for the sport that we have new Grand Slam champions,” he said after leading Serbia to a 2-1 win over Canada in the ATP Cup.

“We have new successful young players that are showing the courage and boldness, coming into the biggest stadiums in sport, willing to take on the biggest challenge in facing especially the three of us, fighting for the biggest title.

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“There are a few of them that are very close. They have huge potential. Obviously there’s still a lot of time ahead of them.”

He pointed to Greece’s Tsitsipas, Germany’s Zverev, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov and Italy’s Matteo Berrettini as capable of breaking through.

“You have a lot of players. I think the future of tennis is in good hands, without a doubt,” he said.

Djokovic, who will attempt to win an unprecedented ninth Australian Open title when the tournament begins next week, added that once players got over the hurdle of winning a first Slam, it got easier.

“I know how it feels working your way up in the men’s tennis world, trying to clinch the first Grand Slam title,” he said.

“It’s climbing Mount Everest kind of experience until you do it. Then when you reach that, when you achieve such a great achievement, then of course there’s a huge kind of burden and monkey off your back. After that, you’re entering a new era of your career.”

But Djokovic isn’t ready to relinquish his crown just yet, adding with a smile: “Rafa, Roger and myself are going to make sure that doesn’t happen for another 10 years at least.”

Nadal Takes Veiled Swipe At Djokovic Over Quarantine Complaints

Rafael Nadal celebrates with the Mousquetaires Cup (The Musketeers) during the podium ceremony after winning the men’s singles final tennis match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic at the Philippe Chatrier court, on Day 15 of The Roland Garros 2020 French Open tennis tournament in Paris on October 11, 2020.
MARTIN BUREAU / AFP

 

Rafael Nadal has taken an apparent swipe at Novak Djokovic over his requests for quarantined players preparing for the Australian Open, saying not everyone felt the need to “advertise” how they were trying to help.

The Serbian world number one issued a list of suggestions to Tennis Australia last week on behalf of 72 players unable to leave their Melbourne hotel rooms after Covid-19 cases were detected on their planes to Australia.

They reportedly included moving players into private homes with tennis courts and getting them better meals.

But his requests fell on deaf ears, while Australian media portrayed players as petulant and selfish and fellow star Nick Kyrgios called Djokovic a “tool”.

Djokovic later issued an open letter to say his “good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued”.

“We all try to help each other,” Spanish great Nadal told ESPN Tuesday from Adelaide, where he and Djokovic are quarantining ahead of the year’s opening Grand Slam in Melbourne on February 8.

“Some need to make public everything they do to help others,” he added, in remarks widely seen as referring to Djokovic. “Others… do it in a more private way without having to publish or advertise everything we’re doing.”

While most players are undergoing a mandatory 14 days of quarantine in Melbourne, Nadal, Djokovic and other superstars of the game including Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka jetted into Adelaide, where they are due to play an exhibition on Friday.

It sparked mutterings about preferential treatment, and Nadal admitted it had been smoother sailing.

“In Adelaide, conditions have been better than most players in Melbourne,” he said.

“But there are players in Melbourne who have larger rooms where they can develop physical activities, others have smaller rooms and can’t have contact with their coach and their physical trainer.

“Where’s the line? It’s an ethical issue. Everyone has their own opinion and they are all respectable.”