Weary Djokovic withdraws from Toronto ATP Masters

Novak Djokovic reacts to a point during the Wimbledon men's singles final against Carlos Alcaraz. Tennis Canada said in a statement Djokovic has withdrawn from the ATP Toronto Masters due to fatigue. (Reuters)
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Updated 24 July 2023
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Weary Djokovic withdraws from Toronto ATP Masters

  • His withdrawal deprives the US Open tuneup tournament that starts on Aug. 7 of a four-time champion
  • Wimbledon quarterfinalist Christopher Eubanks will now gain automatic entry into the Toronto main draw

TORONTO: World No. 1 Novak Djokovic has withdrawn from the ATP Toronto Masters due to fatigue, Tennis Canada said on Sunday.

The announcement comes a week after the 23-time Grand Slam champion from Serbia fell to Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz in the final at Wimbledon.

His withdrawal deprives the US Open tuneup tournament that starts on Aug. 7 of a four-time champion.

“I have always enjoyed my time in Canada, but after speaking with my team, we believe this is the right decision to take,” Djokovic said in a statement released by Tennis Canada.

“I would like to thank Karl Hale, the Tournament Director, for understanding this decision. I really hope I can return to Canada and Toronto in the coming years to play in front of great fans there.”

Alcaraz denied Djokovic a record-equalling eighth Wimbledon title last week, handing him his first defeat on the All England Club’s Center Court in 10 years.

The Spaniard’s victory also ended 36-year-old Djokovic’s chance of a calendar Grand Slam after his triumphs at the Australian Open and French Open took his tally of major titles to a men’s record 23.

Wimbledon quarterfinalist Christopher Eubanks will now gain automatic entry into the Toronto main draw.

The American defeated fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas and 12th-seeded Cameron Norrie en route to the last eight at Wimbledon.

Hale acknowledged that Djokovic, who won the Canadian title in 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2016, would be missed.

“Of course, we’re disappointed that Novak won’t be playing at the National Bank Open this year,” Hale said in a statement. “He’s an incredible player and one we know our fans were eager to watch at Sobeys Stadium.

“He will be missed but we still have a long list of sensational players confirmed for this year’s event, including 41 of the top 42 players in the world.”


‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

Updated 24 May 2024
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‘Happy I’m not playing Nadal,’ says Medvedev

PARIS: Daniil Medvedev said he was “happy” not to have been drawn to face 14-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open first round as the great Spaniard prepares to bid an emotional farewell to the tournament.
Nadal, who has only lost three times in 115 matches at Roland Garros since his title-winning debut in 2005, is playing the French Open for the last time.
In a blockbuster first match, unseeded Nadal will face fourth-ranked Alexander Zverev and world number five Medvedev could not be more delighted.
“I’m not shy to say I’m happy it’s not me playing against him first round,” admitted Medvedev on Friday, a day after practicing with Nadal.
Former world number one and 22-time Grand Slam title winner Nadal, whose ranking has slumped to 276 after featuring in just four tournaments since January last year, will turn 38 on June 3.
However, Medvedev warned Zverev that Nadal is far from a fading force.
“There’s a lot of hard work, a lot of mental effort. Sometimes people forget he has a lot of talent in his hands also,” said the Russian.
“We were warming up serves and then he did three in a row, volley, dropshots, banana ones, with backspin, and it was funny.
“We were saying, ‘Yeah, no talent, just hard work!’“
Nadal holds a 7-3 winning head-to-head record against Zverev with five of those victories coming on clay.
The last time they met was in the 2022 semifinals in Paris when the German was forced to retire after suffering a serious ankle injury.
“It’s tough to play Rafa,” added Medvedev.
“He has the capability to spin the ball not like other players, get these high balls especially on clay, is not easy.
“Then we go to where he fights for every point, he brings intensity to every point. You know you’re going to be tired, you know it’s going to be tough. It’s not easy.”


French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

Updated 23 May 2024
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French Open: Nadal faces Zverev in first round

  • Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries

PARIS: Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and the 14-time champion was set up for a challenging first-round matchup against Alexander Zverev from Thursday’s draw.
Nadal had been coy about whether he would compete Roland Garros after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.
After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But he has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.
Unseeded.
His matchup against the No. 4-ranked Zverev is a rematch of their 2022 semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.
The French Open begins on Sunday.


Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

Updated 22 May 2024
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Djokovic celebrates 37th birthday with much-needed win

  • The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court

GENEVA: Novak Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday on Wednesday with a much-needed win as he gears up for his French Open title defense, progressing to the Geneva quarter-finals.
The world number one downed Germany’s Yannick Hanfmann 6-3, 6-3 in the second round at the Parc des Eaux-Vives grounds.
Djokovic took a wild card to play in Geneva in a bid to rescue an alarming dip in form ahead of next week’s French Open, the second Grand Slam of the year.
The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Djokovic as a cake with candles was brought out onto the court following his win.
He lifted the cake and showed it off to the crowd, having a nibble before offering some to the ball boys and girls.


Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

Updated 22 May 2024
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Nadal ready for emotional French Open farewell

  • The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005
  • As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic

PARIS: Rafael Nadal will bring down the curtain on his 19-year French Open career with the likelihood of adding to his 14 titles greatly diminished before he leaves behind a record and reputation unlikely ever to be matched.

The great Spaniard, a 22-time Grand Slam champion, won his first title at Roland Garros as a teenager in 2005. A week on Monday, he will celebrate his 38th birthday.

A former world No. 1, who is now at 276 in the world, Nadal has only played 15 matches since January last year as a hip injury and then a muscle tear were added to a depressing history of physical ailments which have forced him to miss 12 Grand Slam tournaments in his career.

Whether or not the 2024 French Open becomes No. 13 will soon become apparent as the draw for the event takes place on Thursday afternoon.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 percent,” explained Nadal after a second round exit in Rome last week.

“And if 100 percent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 percent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

As well as 14 titles in Paris, Nadal can boast a record of 112 wins and just three losses, two of which came against career-long rival Novak Djokovic.

He is also held in remarkably high esteem.

At his first training session on Court Philippe Chatrier at Roland Garros on Monday an estimated 6,000 people turned up to watch, many chanting his name.

“We have to enjoy the time he has left on court, evaluate it, and be aware that it’s very unlikely that something like that will happen again,” said coach Carlos Moya during the recent Madrid Open.

“Personally, I’m never on court when he enters or leaves, but I am this year because I like seeing the love he gets from the people when he steps on court.

“He’s one of the great stars of this sport, he’s about to retire, and it’s really amazing to see that.”

Nadal isn’t the only A-list talent under a Paris cloud ahead of the tournament start on Sunday.

Defending champion and record 24-time Grand Slam title winner Djokovic, whose three titles in Paris put him alongside Gustavo Kuerten, Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl, is enduring a title dry spell unseen since 2018.

Back then, he also reached May without a trophy before crashing to a shock last-16 defeat at the French Open to unheralded Marco Cecchinato of Italy.

This season, Djokovic has lost his Australian Open title and has yet to make a final on tour.

Adding injury to insult, he was hit on the head by a falling water bottle in Rome, a freak accident which he claimed caused nausea and dizziness.

In an attempt to gather a degree of clay-court confidence ahead of the French Open, Djokovic, who turns 37 on Wednesday, grabbed a late wild card in the ongoing Geneva tournament.

Between them, Nadal and Djokovic have carved up the last eight French Open titles while 2009 was the last time a final at Roland Garros did not feature at least one of them.

World No. 2 Jannik Sinner, the man who succeeded Djokovic as Australian Open champion, has been laid low by a hip injury which caused him to skip the Rome Open.

The 22-year-old Italian reached the quarterfinals of the French Open on his debut in 2020 where he was defeated by Nadal in straight sets.

Sinner has an extra incentive to progress deep in Paris as he could depose Djokovic as world No. 1.

Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champion, also skipped Rome to nurse an arm injury.

The world No. 3 took the first set off Djokovic in their semifinal last year before body cramps saw his slip to defeat.

The Spanish crowd-pleaser admitted that his sudden and dramatic diminished physical state was caused by the fear of facing Djokovic.


Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

Updated 22 May 2024
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Swiatek eyes place among greats with fourth French Open crown

  • The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007
  • Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome

PARIS: Iga Swiatek admits she is the favorite and “confident” ahead of her bid to become only the fourth woman to win four Roland Garros singles titles in the Open era.

The world No. 1 could also become the first player to lift three successive women’s titles in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

Swiatek is a strong favorite after dominating on clay again this season, arriving in Paris off the back of WTA 1000 victories in Madrid and Rome.

The only female player in history to complete a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros treble in the same season is Serena Williams.

But Swiatek is not daunted by what she could achieve.

“I’m No. 1 so I’m the favorite everywhere if you look at rankings,” she told reporters after swatting aside second-ranked Aryna Sabalenka in the Rome Open final last weekend.

“But rankings don’t play, so... I’ll do everything step by step and we’ll see.

“Obviously I am confident. I feel like I’m playing great tennis. But it doesn’t change the fact that I really want to stay humble and really focused.”

The 22-year-old Pole has plenty of years ahead of her to chase records but is wasting little time — her four WTA 1000 titles this season have taken her career total to 10.

That is already only 13 short of Serena Williams’ all-time record.

With four Grand Slam titles, Swiatek has not struggled to translate that form to the major tournaments in the past, but insists it is tougher to lift the sport’s biggest trophies.

“Grand Slams are different. There is different pressure on the court and off the court,” she added.

“I love to come to Paris again and be there. It’s a great place for me to be. I really enjoy my time there anyway. These are hard seven matches that you need to win, so I don’t take anything for granted.”

Swiatek is aiming to join Chris Evert, Steffi Graf and Henin in lifting the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen four times in the Open era.

The biggest obstacle standing in her way is Sabalenka.

The Belarusian missed three match points before losing to Swiatek in a thrilling Madrid final and will be hoping to get another crack at her rival after a one-sided loss in Rome.

Sabalenka, the two-time reigning Australian Open champion, has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.

She is also the only woman to beat Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.

Sabalenka has an 8-3 losing record against Swiatek, but insisted after Rome that she wanted to face her again in Paris.

“Even though I lost these two finals, I mean, I never focus on the past,” she said.

“No matter how many times I lose to the player, I know anyway if I’ll be there, if I’ll be fighting, I’ll be focusing on myself, I know that I can get that win.

“I mean, I’m going there with the confidence that I can do well there.”

Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semis.

“I’m definitely not the favorite probably there,” she said.

“But at the same time I do feel that I can actually go for it.

“It’s 50/50, you know? But I prefer to be underdog. I really hope I’m going to make it to the final and I really hope I’ll be able to get that win, if it’s Iga or not.”

Elena Rybakina, the only player to defeat Swiatek on clay this year, was being touted as part of a new ‘big three’ 12 months ago.

But the Kazakh has failed to make the last four at a Slam since losing the 2023 Australian Open final to Sabalenka and has been passed in the rankings by US Open champion Coco Gauff.

American Gauff, playing in a major for the first time since turning 20, will be hoping to go one better than when she lost the 2022 French Open showpiece to Swiatek.