‘Incredible’ as history-making Djokovic wins record 23rd Grand Slam title

Serbia's Novak Djokovic points at 23 on his garment as he celebrates winning the men's singles final of the French Open tennis tournament against Norway's Casper Ruud in three sets, 7-6, (7-1), 6-3, 7-5, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Sunday. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 12 June 2023
Follow

‘Incredible’ as history-making Djokovic wins record 23rd Grand Slam title

  • Djokovic is the first man to win all four majors at least three times and is once again halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969
  • Victory for the third time in Paris, after 2016 and 2021, adds to Djokovic’s 10 Australian Open titles, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open

PRIS: Novak Djokovic created “incredible” history on Sunday when he captured a record-breaking 23rd men’s Grand Slam title, reinforcing his case to be crowned the greatest player of all time.

The 36-year-old Serb brushed off an early wobble to defeat Casper Ruud of Norway 7-6 (7/1), 6-3, 7-5 and win a third French Open title, snapping the tie of 22 Slams he shared with career-long rival Rafael Nadal.

“It’s an incredible feeling to win 23. I’m beyond grateful and blessed to be standing here with so many incredible achievements,” said Djokovic.

Victory for the third time in Paris, after 2016 and 2021, adds to Djokovic’s 10 Australian Open titles, seven at Wimbledon and three at the US Open.

“It’s no coincidence that my 23rd Grand Slam title has come here because it has been the hardest one for me to win in my career. I am very emotional right now and I am very, very proud,” added Djokovic who fired 11 aces and 52 winners in total past Ruud.

Djokovic is the first man to win all four majors at least three times and is once again halfway to the first calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

When asked if he could win a 24th and 25th Grand Slam, he replied: “Yes, why not. I feel good this year, I won the two Grand Slams that I played (Melbourne then Roland Garros). So why not?“

“I am very motivated, very inspired to continue to make history in this sport.”

Only Margaret Court and Serena Williams in women’s tennis have managed to rack up 23 Grand Slam titles. Court’s all-time mark of 24 will now be in Djokovic’s sights at Wimbledon next month.

“I’m going to look to win Wimbledon again. I’ve won the last four Wimbledons, I feel good on the grass,” said Djokovic.

There is little sign of Djokovic slowing down. He is now the oldest French Open champion but 11 of his Slam trophies have now been won after he turned 30.

His coach Goran Ivanizevic hailed his physical fitness, describing him as a “Ninja” on court.

On Monday, Djokovic will reclaim the world No. 1 ranking from Carlos Alcaraz, who he defeated in the semifinals in Paris, and start his 388th week in top spot.

“Many congrats on this amazing achievement. 23 is a number that just a few years back was impossible to think about, and you made it! Enjoy it with your family and team!” tweeted Nadal, a 14-time Roland Garros winner who missed this year’s tournament through injury.

Ruud added sportingly: “Novak, another day, another record for you. And another day you rewrite tennis history once again.”

The sense of Sunday’s occasion certainly attracted sports A-listers.

NFL legend Tom Brady watched from the Djokovic box, football stars Kylian Mbappe and Zlatan Ibrahimovic sat side by side in the VIP area which also accommodated former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, a regular this weekend.

Djokovic was playing in his seventh French Open final and boasted a 4-0 career record over Ruud, not having lost a single set.

However, the fourth-ranked Norwegian was the more composed of the two at the start, sprinting out of the blocks for a 2-0 lead when Djokovic shanked an overhead.

It was to be Ruud’s only service break all afternoon.

Ruud, the 2022 runner-up to Nadal, stretched to 3-0 and 4-1 before Djokovic retrieved the break in the seventh game when his opponent buried an easy smash into the net with an open court begging.

It came at the end of a lung-busting 28-shot rally.

Djokovic missed a break point in the ninth game, tumbling to the red clay as he chased down a Ruud drive.

His frustration boiled over when he angrily accused umpire Damien Dumusois of rushing the players between changeovers on a heavy, humid afternoon in the French capital.

Fired up, he then raced through the tiebreak, sealing the opener with a running forehand.

Tellingly, that was Djokovic’s sixth tiebreak at this French Open and in none of them had he committed a single unforced error in the 55 points contested.

Despite being Djokovic’s junior by 12 years, Ruud, who also lost the 2022 US Open final to Alcaraz, suddenly looked spent.

Djokovic broke for 2-0 in the second set and despite Ruud saving two set points in the eighth game, the Serb moved closer to his dream.

Ruud saved a break point in the third game of the third set before Djokovic was hit with a warning for taking too long between points.

But he wasn’t thrown out of his stride.

Djokovic broke for love at 6-5 and sealed his place in history when Ruud went wide after three hours and 13 minutes on court.

The champion saluted his box where coach Goran Ivanizevic and wife Jelena sat.

“I know I can be a nightmare,” said Djokovic. “I want to thank you first of all for patience and tolerance and that stands out. I was really torturing you so I appreciate you being my rock, and my support and really believing in me.”

Ruud predicted Djokovic will keep winning.

“He can win on any surface, anywhere. He will be up for the challenge. I’m sure he will aim for even more. He’s not done yet,” he said.


Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

Newcastle United manager Eddie Howe reacts. (Reuters)
Updated 9 sec ago
Follow

Eddie Howe responds to Newcastle United future talk as Julian Nagelsmann links surface

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has come out fighting after talk of his Newcastle United future in the media linked Germany head coach Julian Nagelsmann with the job.

Howe has come under pressure from a minority of Newcastle fans due to poor performances, an increasingly concerning defensive record and a slide down the Premier League table. The Magpies are currently 10th in the top-flight standings, with likely eight places set to result in European competition qualification for next season.

And that has seen speculation build, particularly in the European press. Reports from Germany suggest current Germany boss Nagelsmann would be interested in replacing Howe, if Newcastle decide a change is in order this summer. That is, at this stage, not thought to be the position of the Magpies’ hierarchy.

Howe said he had seen the Nagelsmann talk and it did not concern him, insisting his future will be defined by his own actions, not those of others.

“Genuinely it doesn’t affect me. I’m here. I’m sitting in the seat. My future will be defined by what I do, no one else,” he said when quizzed on the matter.

“It’s up to me to continually prove myself. I back myself and my ability. I know my qualities. I know what I bring to the job and I have ambitions for the team and the club and I can’t control what people write and what speculation there is in every sense. I don’t try to get involved in it.”

Howe was then asked whether he felt support from the club’s owners. Newcastle are 80 percent owned by the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia; the other 20 percent is split between RB Sports & Media (roughly 14 percent) and Amanda Staveley and Mehrdad Ghodoussi (around 6 percent).

The Newcastle boss said: “It’s difficult for me to speak for them, but I have felt a support and an understanding for the season that we have had, and things that have been thrown at us and things that have happened. That’s really important from my side that I do feel that support.

“I’m not going to try and put words in people’s mouths or anything like that, but I think they have seen from afar how difficult this season has been.”

Having won on the road in the cup, it is back to St. James’ Park and the challenge this weekend of Wolverhampton Wanderers, who edged ahead of Newcastle last weekend in the top-flight standings. Victory at the weekend would be Newcastle’s first win at home in all competitions since mid-December, a record which is the antithesis of their form in the 12 months previous to that, where they were near unbeatable on home turf.

Howe said: “We’re not at our fluent best but there is a lot of good. There is some frustration that we’re not quite ourselves, but I think that will come. I have no doubt, once we’re back to full strength, hopefully you’ll see the real Newcastle again.

“The last few games have been frustrating because possibly in the months gone by, they were games that we would have won or found a way to win. For whatever reason they’re games we didn’t win.

“Looking back on those games, it was also important we didn’t lose those games and to have shown the battling and fighting qualities to fight back from losing positions, which is great to see. I'd like to see us, of course, return to our best performances at home.

“I think the environment we've had to play in has been incredible; I have to thank the supporters for that. They haven’t seen us win for a while but they’re still backing us and supporting the players in the time that they’re playing. Hopefully that’ll make the difference.”

Meanwhile, Newcastle's reward for edging past Blackburn Rovers in the fifth round of the FA Cup is a last-eight tie at current holders Manchester City.

On hearing the draw, Howe joked: “I was driving at the time and I almost swerved off the road.

“It wasn’t the draw we wanted, that’s for sure. I don’t think any team wants to play Manchester City four times in a season but we’re looking forward to the game. I believe we can beat anybody when we’re at our best. We’ve had three really tight games against them this year.

“When you have time to analyze things and go through it like you do mentally, you realize that to win the FA Cup you’ll probably have to beat Manchester City at some stage in the competition. So that’s been moved forward from our (point of) view and I just think we have to look at it and give everything to try and win. It will be difficult but we can do it.”

 


Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

Updated 57 min 15 sec ago
Follow

Bayern held in Freiburg to give Leverkusen advantage in title race

  • Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter
  • Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League

FREIBURG, Germany: Bayern Munich were held to a 2-2 draw at Freiburg on Friday, an 87th-minute equalizer from Lucas Hoeler giving leaders Bayer Leverkusen a chance to go 10 points clear.
Mathys Tel’s 35th-minute stunner had canceled out an impressive opener from Freiburg captain Christian Guenter, before Jamal Musiala’s spectacular solo effort looked to have snared the three points for Bayern.
Hoeler however had other ideas, chipping a volley through a crowded Bayern penalty area and past a helpless Manuel Neuer.
Bayern have now failed to win away from home in four matches dating back to January in both the league and Champions League.
Xabi Alonso’s Bayer Leverkusen can go 10 points clear of the Bavarians with a win against lowly Cologne on Sunday.
Guenter blasted the hosts into the lead after 12 minutes, unleashing a spinning rocket from outside the box and into the bottom right of the goal.
The goal was the Freiburg captain’s first of the season and the club’s only strike from outside the box this campaign.
Not content to allow Guenter to dominate the highlights reel, Tel hit back with a dream goal of his own, curling in a long-range effort on his second league start this season.
With 15 minutes remaining and Bayern dominating possession but failing to carve out clear chances, Musiala dribbled past at least three Freiburg defenders and blasted a low shot into the right corner.
Despite holding the lead Bayern grew passive, dropping deep to defend their goal and hold onto their slender lead.
With just three minutes of regular time remaining, Hoeler held off several Bayern defenders and chipped a volley over Neuer and into the goal, sending the home side into raptures.
The draw spoilt the first day at work for Bayern sporting director Max Eberl, who said during his unveiling this week the side would still push Leverkusen for the title.
The point sees Freiburg finish the night in ninth place in a crowded Bundesliga table, with only five points separating seventh and 15th places.


Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

Updated 01 March 2024
Follow

Al-Hilal too good for Al-Ittihad, too good for everyone

  • Goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid made sure 18-time champions now nine points clear of Riyadh rivals in second

RIYADH: Cristiano Ronaldo watched from the stands in disbelief on Thursday as Al-Nassr were held to a 4-4 draw at home against bottom team Al-Hazm. Neymar on Friday watched in delight as Al-Hilal came from behind to defeat Al-Ittihad 3-1 to take a giant step toward a 19th Saudi Pro League trophy.

Thanks to goals from Saleh Al-Shehri, Malcom, and Saud Abdulhamid, the 18-time champions are now nine points clear of their Riyadh rivals in second, and as Al-Hilal have now won their last 25 games in all competitions and a record 15 in the league, few would now bet against the Blues.

It was an entertaining Saudi Classico, but once Al-Hilal took the lead in the second half, there was always likely to be just one outcome and it was a deserved win.

Al-Ittihad, the defending champions, had opportunities but against the runaway leaders more than one needed to be taken.

But the visitors, who were missing star striker Karim Benzema through injury, started strongly and took the lead in the 12th minute. With all the attacking talent on the pitch, it was a little surprising that N’Golo Kante opened the scoring with his first goal for almost six months. It was a cracker too.

The former Chelsea midfielder started the move and after laying the ball off, sprinted for the penalty area. He was there just in time to meet the left-sided cross from Zakaria Al-Hawsawi and no one was prepared for the sight of Kante flying through the air to send a header past Yassine Bounou and into the net. It stunned fans in the Kingdom Arena and probably those watching around the world. 

A few minutes later it was almost 2-0 as Faisal Al-Ghamdi shot just wide from outside the area with Bounou scrambling to get across. Al-Ittihad have been in good form and were seemingly growing in confidence.

But slowly Al-Hilal began to wake up and six minutes before the break were level. Abdullah Al-Mayouf punched a Salem Al-Dawsari corner clear but it fell to Ruben Neves just outside the area and while the Portuguese star’s shot was blocked, there was Al-Shehri, in the starting lineup to replace the suspended Aleksandar Mitrovic, to pounce and fire home.

Almost immediately, the visitors thought they had a penalty as Kalidou Koulibaly was judged by the referee to have been tugging the shirt of Ahmed Hegazy. VAR thought differently, however.

Both teams continued to push forward and just before the hour the hosts took the lead. It came shortly after Al-Ittihad had claims for a penalty waved away, and Al-Hilal broke. Sergej Milinkovic-Savic chipped over a perfect cross from the left for Malcom — who was given far too much space on the edge of the six-yard box — to head home.

Kante almost equalized within minutes, firing a low shot just wide of the post. It was a great chance and, had it been taken, the game could have turned out very differently.

As it was, midway through the second half, Abdulhamid netted a third. Milinkovic-Savic slipped a pass into the right side of the area for the full-back to twist and turn past two defenders before shooting home at the near post. Not for the first time in the evening, Neymar, still recovering from his serious injury, was on his feet.

Unlike Al-Nassr, who four times threw the lead away against Al-Hazm, Al-Hilal were not going to be denied and the celebrations at the end reflected an unstoppable winning machine.

There is a quick chance for revenge for Al-Ittihad as the two giants meet in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final next week, but Al-Hilal surely know that with the domestic title almost sewn up, they can now turn their full attention to continental concerns.

For Al-Ittihad, now 25 points below the leaders in fifth, their season now depends on the clash.


Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

Updated 01 March 2024
Follow

Verstappen’s Bahrain pole delivers relief to Red Bull and Horner

  • Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session
  • “It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.
His success, which he admitted was “a little bit unexpected” arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.
This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behavior.
Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Verstappen.
“The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it’s been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.
“In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I’m very happy to be on pole.”
He added: “To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car.”
He forecast a close race on Saturday.
“We look good for the race and that’s the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I’m confident we can have a strong race.”
Ferrari’s Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes’ George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.
Two-time champion Fernando Alonso qualified sixth for Aston Martin, ahead of the McLarens of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri with seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton ninth for Mercedes and Nico Hulkenberg 10th for Haas.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” admitted Leclerc.
“But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year.”
Russell praised Mercedes for producing a car that he could build on. “P3 is a good place to start,” he said.
Qualifying got under way with Horner, who has always categorically denied any wrongdoing, under renewed pressure despite being cleared in Red Bull’s investigation led by a London lawyer.
Horner, who turned up at the track on Thursday to oversee the start of the new season, said: “I won’t comment on anonymous speculation, but to reiterate, I have always denied the allegations.”
Verstappen ensured events on the track went more smoothly and he will be favorite to emulate last year’s result when he won the first of 19 races as he swept to his third title.
The session began in cool conditions as temperatures fell under the floodlights at Sakhir’s International Circuit where Bahrain’s maiden race took place 20 years ago.
The air temperature was 18, the track 21.
The first qualifying segment ended with Sainz on top as the Alpines made an early exit along with both Saubers and Williams’ Logan Sargeant.
After topping Thursday’s opening practice, Hamilton squeezed through in 15th place.
Leclerc topped the times on the second runs of Q2 and Sainz was third, sandwiching Verstappen in second, while Hamilton was fourth with a late lap.
In the final seconds of the top 10 shoot-out Verstappen improved to 1:29.179, enough to resist Leclerc by 0.228 seconds to launch his 2024 season in ominous fashion.
Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

Updated 01 March 2024
Follow

Alonso feeling great after hinting at retirement

  • “I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well,” said Fernando Alonso
  • “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest”

SAKHIR, Bahrain: Fernando Alonso on Friday qualified in sixth place for Saturday’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix and declared he felt “great” two days after hinting at retirement.
The 42-year-old Aston Martin driver said he had not expected to be so competitive, but added that he hoped he might be in contention to repeat his surprise podium finish last year.
The two-time world champion on Wednesday said he would decide his future after the “first few weeks or races” because of the demands of this year’s unprecedented 24-race calendar.
“Well, first of all, I need to decide if I want to keep racing and that will be the first thing that I need to decide — in a few weeks or a few races,” he said when asked if he was interested in joining Mercedes to succeed Lewis Hamilton next year.
“I feel great now, but I know it’s a demanding calendar and in 2026 there are a different set of regulations as well, which maybe are tempting or maybe not, I don’t know.”
After qualifying, however, the evergreen Spaniard, who has adopted a new diet and fitness schedule, said: “I feel great. I didn’t expect we would be that competitive, to be honest.
“Winter testing was ok, but I think we are not in the pace of the leaders.
“Free practice was competitive, but we found also last year that sometimes in free practice we are running in a different engine mode and in qualifying everything is a bit more realistic.
“It’s going to be difficult in the race, very tight in a group which will damage the tires even more when you are in traffic. So, I think it’s going to be a question mark for everyone. Let’s see.”
He made no further comments about his future, having declared that 24 races is “well over the limit.”
“When I started, we had 16 races, then it was 18 and then I think Liberty (the American owners of F1) came and we had 20 in a season and that was the limit, 20 races, but now we are up to 24.
“It isn’t sustainable for the future, I think, not for anyone.”