Djokovic, Swiatek into Italian Open last 16

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Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov during their third round match at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on Sunday. (AFP)
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Iga Swiatek returns the ball to Lesia Tsurenko at the Italian Open tennis tournament, in Rome, on May 14, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 15 May 2023

Djokovic, Swiatek into Italian Open last 16

  • Djokovic looked to have shaken off the injury which forced him to miss last week’s Madrid Masters
  • The 21-year-old is trying for her third straight Rome title and made light work of Tsurenko after a slightly bumpy start

ROME: Novak Djokovic reached the last 16 of the Italian Open on Sunday after winning a battle with Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 4-6, 6-1, while blistering Iga Swiatek thrashed Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 6-0.

Six-time Rome champion Djokovic initially looked in improved form compared to his sluggish tournament opener against Tomas Etcheverry but again had a fight on his hands against the former world No. 3

“I think I’m getting close to the desired level. You can always play better but today I had a really good quality opponent and I think I delivered,” Djokovic told reporters.

No longer wearing the elbow brace he had in Friday’s second round match, Djokovic looked to have shaken off the injury which forced him to miss last week’s Madrid Masters.

The 22-time Grand Slam title winner lost his serve in the first game of the match but broke back immediately and in game four broke again to tip the first set in his favor.

Djokovic served out to take the lead and in game three of the second set broke former world No. 3 Dimitrov, who handed the initiative to the Serb with a weak backhand into the net.

However, Dimitrov leveled the set at 4-4 with a break of his own, angering Djokovic who was convinced that the shot which won the game was long, and drew huge roars from the Foro Italico crowd when he claimed the set.

However, Djokovic has reached at least the quarterfinals in each of his 16 appearances in Rome and a powerful third set display ensured his passage into the fourth round.

“I was very happy to find the right rhythm in the first game of first set... That was super important to make a break early and hold things under control,” said Djokovic.

Losing finalist in Madrid last weekend, Swiatek looked again in imperious form as she breezed into the last 16 of the women’s draw.

The 21-year-old is trying for her third straight Rome title and made light work of Tsurenko after a slightly bumpy start.

Swiatek lost the first two games but then rattled off 12 in a row in a powerful demonstration of why she is world number one and favorite to defend her Roland Garros title.

“I’m just trying to be consistent and trying to play my game. I treat every match as a final, I try to have the right mindset,” said Swiatek on court.

Swiatek now faces either Donna Vekic or Ljudmila Samsonova in the fourth round after extending her winning streak in the Italian capital to 13 matches.

Her bid for a Rome hat trick will be helped by six of the world’s top 10 women players being eliminated early.

Fifth-ranked Coco Gauff of the US was defeated by Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 4-6, 6-2, 6-2. It was Bouzkova’s third career Top 5 win but first on clay.

Also heading for the exit was world No. 8 Maria Sakkari who was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Marketa Vondrousova.

Gauff and Sakkari join world No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, third-ranked Jessica Pegula, world No. 4 Caroline Garcia and seventh ranked Ons Jabeur in being dumped out of the tournament.

Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka withdrew with a right leg injury handing Madison Keys of the US a free pass into the last 16.

Daniil Medvedev won his first ever match in Rome, 6-4, 6-2 against Emil Ruusuvuori, the former US Open champion winning a second round match which was postponed to Sunday due to the torrential rain which hit the Italian capital on Saturday.

In much balmier conditions the world No. 3 was dominant on a clay court surface he is famous for not liking.

“Every time I come to a tournament I know I can play well, so I’m happy to finally get the win here in Rome,” said Medvedev.

Fifth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas will take on home hope Lorenzo Sonego in the third round after finishing off Nuno Borges 6-3, 6-3.

World No. 7 Holger Rune eased past Italian veteran Fabio Fognini 6-4, 6-2 to make the last 16.

Djokovic not setting any limit on Grand Slam titles

Updated 11 September 2023

Djokovic not setting any limit on Grand Slam titles

  • The 36-year-old Djokovic defeated Medvedev in straight sets to pull level with Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most major singles crowns

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic said he plans to play as long as possible while he is still capable of competing for the biggest prizes after winning a record equaling 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open on Sunday.

The 36-year-old Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to pull level with Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most major singles crowns.

Half of Djokovic’s Grand Slam triumphs have come since he turned 30. The Serbian has also won seven of the past 10 majors he has entered.

“I’m going to keep going. You know, I feel good in my own body. I still feel I got the support of my environment, of my team, of my family,” said Djokovic.

“Grand Slams ... have been always the highest goal and the priority of mine in the whole season.

“I don’t play as much in terms of other tournaments, so I try to, you know, prioritize my preparation so that I can peak in Slams.”

Djokovic will return to world No. 1 Monday for a record-extending 390th week, replacing Alcaraz at the top. Alcaraz is the only man to have beaten Djokovic this year at a Grand Slam.

His five-set win in the Wimbledon final ruined the Serbian’s bid for a calendar Grand Slam, but any indication that signalled the passing of the torch was shown to be premature in New York.

“Knowing that I play at such a high level still and I win the biggest tournaments in this sport, yeah, I don’t want to get rid of this sport,” said Djokovic.

“I don’t want to leave this sport if I’m still at the top, if I’m still playing the way I’m playing.”

Djokovic admitted there are times he questions his future in a sport he has dominated for well over a decade.

“Occasionally asking myself, why do I need this still at this stage after all I have done, you know? How long do I want to keep going? I do have these questions in my head, of course,” he said.

But his habit of setting himself increasingly lofty goals as his career has progressed means there are few thoughts of calling it a day any time soon unless his body dictates otherwise.

“I don’t put any number right now in my mind on how many Slams I want to win until the end of my career. I don’t really have any number,” said Djokovic.

“I’ll continue to prioritize them as my most important tournaments and where I want to play the best tennis.

“So that will not change. That will stay the same in the next season or I don’t know how many more seasons I have in my legs. So let’s see.”

His coach Goran Ivanizevic joked that Djokovic’s unquenchable thirst for success could see him carry on until the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

He also said there was little chance Djokovic would hang up his racquet if he won next year’s Australian Open to claim the outright record with a 25th Grand Slam crown.

“He just enjoying, he likes the challenges. Like you ask me 25, yeah, if he wins 25, he’s going to think, If I win 25, why not 26? It’s always one more, something more.”

Djokovic downs Medvedev at US Open to win record-tying 24th Grand Slam

Updated 11 September 2023

Djokovic downs Medvedev at US Open to win record-tying 24th Grand Slam

  • The Serbian is the first man to win three Grand Slam events in the same season four times

NEW YORK: Novak Djokovic defeated Daniil Medvedev in straight sets on Sunday to win his fourth US Open and a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title, avenging his loss to the Russian in the final two years ago.
The 36-year-old Djokovic won 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 to become the oldest men’s champion in New York in the Open era and match Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most Grand Slam victories.
The Serbian is the first man to win three Grand Slam events in the same season four times, crowning his impending return to world number one in the most fitting of ways inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Medvedev defeated Djokovic in straight sets in the 2021 final to prevent the Serbian from becoming the first man to win all four Grand Slams in the same year since Rod Laver in 1969.
Djokovic admitted to feeling overwhelmed on that occasion, but there were few senses of nerves as he quickly took command of Sunday’s championship match.
The second seed burst out of the gate with a confident hold sealed by successive aces and struck at the first opportunity, punishing Medvedev for a double-fault to break for a 2-0 lead.
A third ace consolidated his advantage before Medvedev got on the board in the fourth game.
The pair traded holds largely untroubled until Djokovic again put pressure on Medvedev as the third seed served down 2-5.
Medvedev dug in to twice stave off set points, but Djokovic calmly made the set his the following game.
Medvedev dethroned last year’s champion Carlos Alcaraz with a “12 out of 10” performance in the semifinals, but he struggled to replicate his very best consistently against an imperious Djokovic.
Attempting to be the first player to beat the top two seeds en route to the title since 1975, Medvedev once more repeatedly found himself under the pump early in the second set.
He was able to resist, hitting a sweeping volley to fight off break point as he secured a gutsy hold for 4-3 before finally asking questions of Djokovic.
A leaping overhead gave Medvedev his first break chance of the contest the very next game, but Djokovic responded with a brilliant scoop on the half-volley to save it.
Djokovic wobbled serving at 5-6, double-faulting twice as Medvedev brought up set point. But Djokovic was waiting as Medvedev went cross-court, and put away the volley to force a tie-break.
Medvedev seemed to have the momentum on his side after winning an astonishing rally to nose 5-4 ahead only for Djokovic to bag the next three points, snatching a marathon 104-minute second set and closing in on a historic triumph.
Djokovic sportingly offered to help Medvedev to his feet after the Russian took an awkward tumble early in the third set, but there was no such goodwill when two break points came about soon after.
Medvedev pumped a backhand long to hand Djokovic a 3-1 advantage. He gave the break straight back, but Medvedev faltered again and there was no mistake second time around as Djokovic wrapped up the title before the emotions started to pour out.

Williams sisters paved way, says Gauff after US Open win

Updated 11 September 2023

Williams sisters paved way, says Gauff after US Open win

  • The 19-year-old from Florida battled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Aryna Sabalenka at the Arthur Ashe Stadium

NEW YORK: Coco Gauff said tennis icons Serena and Venus Williams paved the way for her breakthrough US Open triumph on Saturday after the American teenager captured her first Grand Slam title.

The 19-year-old from Florida battled to a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 defeat of Aryna Sabalenka at the Arthur Ashe Stadium — where as a child she had watched the Williams sisters dominate.

The win ensured Gauff will have her name etched into tennis history alongside other Black American women to lift the title such as the Williams sisters, Althea Gibson and Sloane Stephens.

“It’s crazy. I mean, they’re the reason why I have this trophy today, to be honest,” Gauff said of the Williams sisters.

“They have allowed me to believe in this dream growing up. You know, there wasn’t too many just Black tennis players dominating the sport. It was literally just them that I can remember when I was younger.

“Obviously more came because of their legacy. So it made the dream more believable. But all the things that they had to go through, they made it easier for someone like me to do this.”

Gauff referenced the Williams sisters’ 14-year boycott of the prestigious Indian Wells tournament — due to alleged racist heckling and Venus Williams’ push for equal pay for women at major championships.

“You look back at the history with Indian Wells, with Serena, all she had to go through, Venus fighting for equal pay,” Gauff said.

“Words can’t describe what (Serena and Venus Williams) meant to me. I hope another girl can see this and believe they can do it and hopefully their name can be on this trophy too.”

Gauff’s breakthrough victory will catapult her to a new level in the hierarchy of American sport.

Hollywood celebrities and sports stars such as NBA greats Kevin Durant and Jimmy Butler were on hand to witness Saturday’s triumph.

She was soon bombarded with congratulatory messages from former US President Barack Obama and current President Joe Biden.

“Congratulations to US Open champion, @CocoGauff,” Obama wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“We couldn’t be prouder of you on and off the court — and we know the best is yet to come.”

As the dust settled on Saturday’s victory, video footage of Gauff dancing in the crowd as a fan at the US Open rapidly went viral.

Asked what message she would send to her younger self, she replied: “I would tell her don’t lose that dream.”

“That little girl, like she had the dream, but I don’t know if she fully believed it,” Gauff said. As a kid, you have so many dreams. You know, as you get older sometimes it can fiddle away ... I would tell her don’t lose the dream. Keep having fun.”

Gauff admitted that she had lost belief in herself at times in the years since she burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old prodigy making a deep run at Wimbledon in 2019.

Last year, she was distraught after losing her first Grand Slam final at the French Open. This season she hit rock bottom after a first round exit at Wimbledon in July.

That defeat at the All England club prompted her to bring the veteran Brad Gilbert into her coaching team. Immediately her fortunes improved, with a win at the Washington Open in August followed by a breakthrough first WTA 1000 title at the Cincinnati Open.

“You know, people, I don’t know, I just felt like people were, like, ‘Oh, she’s hit her peak and she’s done. It was all hype’,” Gauff said of the reaction to her Wimbledon loss.

“I see the comments. People don’t think I see it but I see it,” she told reporters. “I know who’s talking trash and I can’t wait to look on Twitter right now.”

Gauff added that she had used the pain of her crushing French Open final loss to Iga Swiatek last year — where she won only four games in a straight sets defeat — to spur her to Saturday’s win.

“The French Open moment, I don’t know if they caught it on camera but I watched Iga lift up that trophy, and I watched her the whole time. I said, ‘I’m not going to take my eyes off her, because I want to feel what that felt like for her.’

“That felt like craziness today lifting this trophy. It hasn’t sunken in and I think it probably will maybe in a week or so.”

Coco Gauff downs Sabalenka to win US Open crown

Updated 10 September 2023

Coco Gauff downs Sabalenka to win US Open crown

  • In an error-strewn final watched by a star-studded record crowd of 28,143 it was Gauff who held her nerve when it mattered to seal a deserved victory
  • Sabalenka blamed self-inflicted errors for her defeat, saying at times she was playing “me against me”

NEW YORK: American teenager Coco Gauff came from behind to win the US Open on Saturday, clinching her first Grand Slam title with a battling win over Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus.

Gauff, 19, produced a gutsy performance on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 2hr 6min to complete a fairytale transformation in her season’s fortunes.

The sixth seed from Florida had gone into the final as the underdog against the hard-hitting second seed Sabalenka, who will become world No. 1 in next week’s rankings.

But with both players making a slew of mistakes throughout an error-strewn final watched by a star-studded record crowd of 28,143 it was Gauff who held her nerve when it mattered to seal a deserved victory.

The win completed a remarkable turnaround for Gauff, who was left distraught after a first round exit at Wimbledon in July.

However, she bounced back to win titles in Washington and Cincinnati and has now landed the biggest win of her career, after a shattering loss in her first Grand Slam final at the French Open last year.

“It means so much to me,” an elated Gauff said afterwards. “I feel like I’m a little bit in shock in this moment.

“That French Open loss (last year) was a heartbreak for me. This makes this moment even sweeter than I could imagine.”

Gauff, the third American teenager to win the US Open after Tracy Austin and Serena Williams, also used her victory speech to thank those who doubted her talent.

“Honestly thank you to the people who didn’t believe in me,” she joked.

“To those who thought they were putting water on my fire, they were putting gas on my fire and I’m burning so bright right now.”

Sabalenka meanwhile blamed self-inflicted errors for her defeat, saying at times she was playing “me against me.”

“She was moving just unbelievable today,” Sabalenka said of Gauff. “But then the second set I start probably overthinking, and because of that I start kind of like losing my power.

“Then she start moving better. I start missing a lot of easy shots.”

Gauff was in trouble in the opening game, Sabalenka breaking her straight away with a rasping backhand that drew a roar of “Come On!” from the Belarusian.

She held easily to take a 2-0 lead but Gauff then took advantage of a shaky service game from Sabalenka to break at 2-2 in the fourth.

The Belarusian double-faulted twice to allow Gauff to get back on level terms.

But that hard-won parity was surrendered in the next game as Sabalenka broke back to go 3-2 ahead.

Australian Open champion Sabalenka then wobbled on her own serve once more as Gauff eked out two break points in the sixth game.

But Sabalenka got it back to deuce with an ace and then took a 4-2 lead with an emphatic smash.

Gauff’s problems on serve continued and Sabalenka broke for the third time to race 5-2 ahead, and she duly wrapped up the set by holding in the next game.

Yet with the match threatening to become a rout, Gauff finally clicked into gear in the second set, making fewer unforced errors and ironing out the kinks in her serve.

Instead it was Sabalenka who began to show signs of brittleness as the tension mounted. She double-faulted to hand Gauff the only break of the set and a 3-1 lead.

Gauff fended off a break point in the next game to hold for 4-1 and went on to hold for the remainder of the set to level the match when Sabalenka smacked a forehand long.

The momentum remained firmly with Gauff in the final set and she secured another crucial break in the opening game when she put away an underhit Sabalenka lob with a smash.

Gauff then held easily for a 2-0 lead as Sabalenka struggled to regain any semblance of composure.

She coughed up four unforced errors to gift Gauff a break and a 3-0 lead, and the American then held with ease to go 4-0 up.

Sabalenka stopped the rot by holding serve in the fifth game, before taking a medical timeout to receive treatment on her left thigh.

Gauff was in no mood to let her grip on the match slip though.

Although Sabalenka held and broke Gauff to cut the lead to 4-2, Gauff hit back when Sabalenka double-faulted to present a break point.

Gauff cashed in to break and grab a 5-2 lead and then swept to victory in the next game, holding to love with a backhand winner.

Medvedev topples Alcaraz to book Djokovic rematch in US Open final

Updated 09 September 2023

Medvedev topples Alcaraz to book Djokovic rematch in US Open final

  • Medvedev produced another scintillating performance against Alcaraz, avenging lopsided loss to the Spaniard in the Wimbledon semifinals in July
  • Djokovic is attempting to become the oldest men’s champion in New York in the Open era

NEW YORK: Daniil Medvedev dethroned defending champion Carlos Alcaraz in a US Open thriller on Friday to set up a repeat of the final from two years ago against 23-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.

Medvedev defeated Alcaraz 7-6 (7/3), 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to reach his fifth major final and stop Alcaraz in his quest to become the first man to retain the title in New York since Roger Federer in 2008.

“I said I needed to play 11 out of 10. I played 12 out of 10, except from the third set,” said the 27-year-old Medvedev.

“He (Alcaraz) is honestly just really unbelievable. To beat him you need to be better than yourself and I managed to do it.”

Medvedev now meets Djokovic on Sunday as the 36-year-old Serbian star once more goes in search of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title to crown his return to world No. 1 next week.

The third-seeded Medvedev won his lone major at the 2021 US Open when he foiled Djokovic in his bid for a calendar Grand Slam, leaving his rival in tears after a straight-sets triumph.

He produced another scintillating performance against Alcaraz, avenging a lopsided loss to the Spaniard in the Wimbledon semifinals in July.

Medvedev held his nerve under constant pressure from Alcaraz in the opening set, elevating his level in tiebreak to claim the final four points.

“I totally lose my mind on that set, and fighting for 50 minutes and then, you know, for four points lose my mind. It was really tough for me to handle it,” said Alcaraz.

Alcaraz didn’t face a single break point in the first set, but Medvedev totally dominated the second set — dropping just two points on serve and breaking the top seed twice.

The 20-year-old Alcaraz kept his hopes alive with a break in the fourth game of the third set enough to extend the match to a fourth set.

He saw three break points come and go at 1-1 before Medvedev administered the fatal blow with a superb backhand return, breaking for a 4-2 lead.

A routine hold moved Medvedev to the cusp of victory, which he eventually sealed after an epic final game in which Alcaraz saved three match points but also failed to convert three break points.

“I thought that right now I am better player to find solutions when the match is not going in the right direction for you,” said Alcaraz.

“But, you know, after this match, I gonna change my mind. I’m not mature enough to handle these kind of matches. So I have to learn about it.”

Djokovic ended the run of unseeded 20-year-old American Ben Shelton earlier on Friday, winning 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) to advance to his 10th US Open final in 17 appearances.

“Another Grand Slam final. I cannot be happier with where I am,” said Djokovic, who missed last year’s tournament at Flushing Meadows because of his refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Djokovic is attempting to become the oldest men’s champion in New York in the Open era, which would also see him match Margaret Court’s all-time mark for most major singles titles.

The Serbian has now won 22 of his last 23 Grand Slam semifinals. He captured the last of his three US Open titles in 2018.

Djokovic has reached the final at all four majors in the same year for the third time. He will try to claim three Grand Slams in the same season for the fourth time in his career.

“I’m obviously over the moon with the results so far on Grand Slams,” said Djokovic.

“Playing in all four finals of all four Slams in a season is amazing. It’s the highest achievement I can think about when I start the season.

“That’s what I dream about, that’s what I really wanted, that’s where I want to be, in this kind of position.”

Djokovic’s only Grand Slam loss this year came at Wimbledon when he was beaten by Alcaraz in five sets.

Shelton began the US Open ranked 47th but will break into the top 20 for the first time on Monday.

“There’s a small piece of it is disappointment obviously. I’m a competitor,” he said. Every loss hurts. It cuts you a little bit.

“But if anything, this week has just motivated me more.”