Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz celebrates after winning against Italy’s Jannik Sinner at the end of their men’s singles semi final match on Court Philippe-Chatrier on day thirteen of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros Complex in Paris on Jun. 7, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 07 June 2024
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Alcaraz outduels Sinner to reach French Open final

  • Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday
  • “It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz

PARIS: Carlos Alcaraz beat incoming world number one Jannik Sinner 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 on Friday to reach the French Open final and continue his bid for a third Grand Slam title.
Alcaraz, 21, will play fourth seed Alexander Zverev or two-time Roland Garros runner-up Casper Ruud on Sunday after becoming the youngest man to reach Grand Slam finals on all three surfaces.
“It’s one of the toughest matches I’ve played for sure,” said Alcaraz.
“The toughest I’ve played in my short career have been against Jannik. I hope to play many, many more like this.”
“You have to find the joy in suffering,” the Spaniard added.
Alcaraz has won both of his two previous major finals — at Wimbledon last year and the 2022 US Open. Victory on Sunday would see him head to the Australian Open next January seeking a career Grand Slam.
Both Alcaraz and Sinner arrived in Paris under an injury cloud, gradually finding their best level over the course of the tournament to set up a meeting billed as the match “everybody wants to see.”
The ninth chapter of an enthralling rivalry destined to shape the future of the sport was the youngest Grand Slam semifinal pairing since Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal at the 2008 US Open.
It was their first Grand Slam meeting since a spectacular five-set quarter-final two years ago in New York, and while perhaps not as exhilarating this one was no less gripping.
Alcaraz, who was hampered badly by cramp in last year’s semifinal loss to Novak Djokovic, had said that playing Sinner was like running a marathon, and it was the Spaniard doing much of the chasing early.
Sinner pinned Alcaraz on the back foot straight away as he broke in the very first game, blending impenetrable defense with searing groundstrokes as he went on the attack.
After holding with ease the Australian Open champion belted a forehand winner for another break opportunity in the third game, sweeping 3-0 in front following an Alcaraz miscue.
Alcaraz finally got on the board in the fifth game before retrieving a break, but he handed it right back and Sinner bagged the first set when the Spaniard dumped a drop-shot into the net.
Sinner began the second set in identical fashion, earning another break after a loose Alcaraz service game and consolidating for a 2-0 edge on a picture-perfect day in Paris.
Alcaraz belatedly spluttered into life though as Sinner struggled to maintain his sky-high standards from the opening set and presented his rival three break points with a double-fault.
A brilliant cross-court winner hauled Alcaraz back on serve, with the Spaniard soon accelerating 5-2 ahead following another break as Sinner sprayed his forehand wide.
Sinner temporarily slowed the Alcaraz charge, ending his five-game winning stretch, but the third seed levelled up the match the next game.
The early onslaught from Sinner felt a distant memory as Alcaraz pounced to break for a 2-1 lead in the third set, flicking a sublime backhand passing shot beyond a powerless Sinner.
Yet the momentum was quickly back with Sinner.
He ripped a blistering one-two combination of forehands to get back on serve and then resisted four break points in a lengthy fifth game before holding for 3-2.
Sinner received a massage from the physio for apparent cramp in his right forearm, but he brushed off any physical issue as he hammered a backhand return past Alcaraz to break again.
A tame Alcaraz forehand into the net handed Sinner the third set. A sense of calmness enveloped the fourth, with not a single break point on offer until a sizzling Alcaraz backhand brought about a set point.
He didn’t flinch and sent the match to a decider with a winner into the open court.
Alcaraz’s approach to grind Sinner down coupled with timely shotmaking allowed him to strike the critical blow in the second game of the fifth set.
Sinner, while visibly flagging more than his re-energised rival, did not go down without a fight, but Alcaraz finally put him away after four hours of another seismic showdown.


Djokovic says don’t write me off for Olympic gold

Updated 25 July 2024
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Djokovic says don’t write me off for Olympic gold

  • The 24-time Grand Slam champion has not won a single title this season
  • “When it comes to bookmakers, people will always talk,” Djokovic said

PARIS: Novak Djokovic says he has “high expectations” as he chases an elusive Olympic gold medal, with his confidence unshaken despite a poor year by his stellar standards.
The 24-time Grand Slam champion has not won a single title this season, losing in straight sets to Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final earlier this month.
He returns to Roland Garros for a fifth Olympics, attempting to improve on the bronze he earned on his debut at the 2008 Beijing Games.
The Serbian world number two faces a mouthwatering clash with Rafael Nadal if both players win their opening matches.
Djokovic has missed out on the podium at the past three Olympics, twice finishing fourth, including in Tokyo three years ago when his bid for a rare golden calendar Grand Slam came up short.
Carlos Alcaraz is the favorite for the title in Paris after landing his first French Open title and defending his Wimbledon crown, but Djokovic has made a habit of proving doubters wrong.
“When it comes to bookmakers, people will always talk,” Djokovic said at a Serbian team press conference on Thursday.
“I haven’t yet won a title in this calendar year so people tend to count me out, but it has happened before and it can always change. So it can be a motivator.”
The 37-year-old pulled out before his French Open quarter-final with a knee injury at the start of June but made a swift return following an operation in time to play at Wimbledon.
“I feel more ready now than I was for Wimbledon,” said Djokovic, who begins his Olympic campaign against Australia’s Matthew Ebden.
Djokovic has made no secret of the fact that winning Olympic gold remains one of his “biggest dreams,” as the only major honor missing from his list.
“The expectations are always high, which is something that I cannot change and don’t want to,” he said.
“Approaching Olympic Games is always a huge challenge for me because I put extra expectations and pressure on myself, and of course, the nation as well.”
“The objective is always the highest one,” he added. “I’m hoping I can perform by best and get to the medal match.”
The tournament will officially mark the end of Andy Murray’s career, with Nadal also nearing retirement, but Djokovic said he had no plans to hang up his racquet.
“I don’t have retirement close in my mind, to be honest even though I know a lot of people would love me to retire so this era is done,” he said.
A match between Djokovic and Nadal would be the 60th instalment of one the sport’s greatest rivalries.
Djokovic holds a 30-29 edge over the Spaniard, but the pair have not faced off since Nadal won their French Open quarter-final two years ago.
“I am excited for this duel in the second round, and I will give it my all,” he said.


Three-time major winner Angelique Kerber will retire from tennis after the Paris Olympics

Updated 25 July 2024
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Three-time major winner Angelique Kerber will retire from tennis after the Paris Olympics

  • The 36-year-old German player has won majors at every tournament except for the French Open at Roland Garros

PARIS: Three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber announced Thursday that she will retire after the Paris Olympics.
The 36-year-old German player won majors at every tournament except for the French Open at Roland Garros — on the same clay courts where she will bid farewell to tennis after the Paris Games. She faces four-time major winner Naomi Osaka of Japan in the first round.
“Before the Olympics begin, l can already say that I will never forget Paris 2024, because it will be my last professional tournament as a tennis player,” Kerber posted on Instagram. “And whereas this might actually be the right decision, it will never feel that way. Simply because I love the sport with all my heart and l’m thankful for the memories and opportunities it has given me.”
Kerber later confirmed her retirement when speaking briefly on stage after the Olympic tennis draw. Men’s and women’s first-round play begins Saturday.
Kerber won the Australian Open and the US Open in 2016 — the year she reached No. 1 in the rankings — and won Wimbledon two years later.
“Paris 2024 will mark the finish line of the most incredible journey I could have ever dreamed of growing up with a racket in my hand,” Kerber added. “There are many more things I want to say and people to thank, which I will do once I completed my last match. But for now, I will take the time and soak up every second of this final episode on court.”


Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles

Updated 25 July 2024
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Andy Murray will only play doubles at the Paris Olympic Games, withdraws from singles

  • Murray pulled out of singles at Wimbledon this month and played one match in doubles alongside his older brother, Jamie

PARIS: Two-time Olympic tennis gold medalist Andy Murray pulled out of singles at the Paris Games on Thursday and only will compete in doubles with Dan Evans.
Murray, a 37-year-old from Britain, has said these Olympics will be the final event of his career.
He’s dealt with a series of injuries, including a hip replacement in 2019, and most recently needed surgery last month to remove a cyst from his spine.
Murray pulled out of singles at Wimbledon this month and played one match in doubles alongside his older brother, Jamie.
“I’ve take the decision to withdraw from the singles to concentrate on the doubles with Dan. Our practice has been great and we’re playing well together,” Murray said Thursday. “Really looking forward to getting started and representing GB one more time.”
His withdrawal announcement came shortly before the draw for the Olympics tennis tournament. Play begins Saturday.
Murray won singles gold medals at London in 2012 and Rio de Janeiro in 2016, making him the only tennis player with two.


Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold

Updated 25 July 2024
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Iga Swiatek: Clay queen targets Olympic gold

  • The Polish world No. 1 has been dominant on the red clay of Paris, winning four of the past five tournaments
  • Swiatek has sporting pedigree — her father Tomasz represented Poland in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul

PARIS: Iga Swiatek is returning to a happy hunting ground as she seeks a first Olympic crown to add to her four French Open titles at Roland Garros.

The Polish world No. 1 has been dominant on the red clay of Paris, winning four of the past five tournaments and is unbeaten there since a quarterfinal loss to Greece’s Maria Sakkari in 2021.

The five-time Grand Slam champion, who won the US Open in 2022, is seeking to go much further than she did at the Tokyo Games in 2021, where she lost to Paula Badosa in the second round.

Swiatek, 23, has had plenty of time to prepare for the Paris Olympics after her early exit from Wimbledon, where she lost in the third round to Yulia Putintseva.

The painful defeat on the grass at the All England Club brought Swiatek’s 21-match winning streak to a shuddering halt.

She was asked afterwards how she would prepare for the Olympics in Paris.

“For sure I’m going to take a lesson and rest a bit more,” she said. “I don’t know, I feel like even though I didn’t perform well at this tournament, because of how the whole season is looking, I deserve it.

“I should literally do it better because I’m not going to be able to go through the whole season playing good tennis.”

In 2020, Swiatek announced herself to the tennis world when she won the French Open without dropping a set.

She was the first Polish player, male or female, to win a Grand Slam singles title and has dominated the event since, with her one blip coming three years ago.

Last month she beat Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in a one-sided final, becoming the fourth woman in the modern era to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen four times after Justine Henin, Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.

The world No. 1 also completed a Madrid-Rome-Roland Garros clay treble. The only other woman in history to do it in the same season is Serena Williams.

Swiatek has sporting pedigree — her father Tomasz represented Poland in rowing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

“Normally a small child has trouble hitting even one or two balls but she could keep it going for dozens of shots,” recalls Artur Szostaczko, her first coach.

“She was a fighter.... I knew that if it went to a super tie-break, there was no need to worry — Iga wouldn’t crack under the pressure.”

Szostaczko taught Swiatek until she was 10 years old.

She was then coached by Michal Kaznowski, who remembers that Swiatek always wanted to be treated on an equal footing with her hard-working big sister Agata.

“Iga got really mad at me because I proposed some basic drill where I would feed Agata eight balls but only six to Iga because she was younger,” he said

“That made her angry. She went to her dad and said she wants just as many as Agata.”

Swiatek will hope that determination carries her all the way to the gold medal on her favorite courts in Paris.
 


No flags but plenty of fire for Medvedev at Paris Olympics

Updated 24 July 2024
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No flags but plenty of fire for Medvedev at Paris Olympics

  • The tennis star, along with other Russian and Belarusians at the Games, has to compete as a neutral following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine
  • Despite his fiery personality the chess-playing and fluent French-speaking Medvedev has reached the peaks of the sport

PARIS: There will be no flags or fanfare for Daniil Medvedev at the Paris Olympics but Russia’s highest-profile athlete in the French capital is unlikely to be far from the headlines.

The tennis star, along with other Russian and Belarusians at the Games, has to compete as a neutral following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Having demonstrated that they have not supported the war and have no links to the military, they have been allowed to compete but cannot fly their national flags.

The two countries’ national anthems are also banned and should Medvedev win an Olympic medal for the first time, the achievement will not be recognized in the medals table.

“When I’m 40, if I can say I played in the Tokyo Olympics, Paris Olympics and Los Angeles Olympics, I had a lot of fun in my life, my career, I’m going to be happy,” said Medvedev.

The 28-year-old world No. 5 is one of the most controversial players in tennis.

The 1.98m (6ft 6ins) giant came close to being disqualified from his Wimbledon semifinal against Carlos Alcaraz this month for a foul-mouthed rant at the chair umpire, before escaping with a warning.

Medvedev explained that he had called the official “a small cat.”

His explosive temperament has seen him feud with rivals Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev.

In Miami in 2018, after Tsitsipas made a foul-mouthed remark about Medvedev, the Russian dismissed the Greek as a “small kid who doesn’t know how to play.”

His rivalry with Zverev peaked at Monte Carlo last year when Medvedev saved two match points in a tense last-16 victory.

Germany’s Zverev lashed out at Medvedev for taking a bathroom break at a key moment in the tie, blasting the Russian as “one of the most unfair players in the world.”

Medvedev hit back, telling the current world No. 4 to “take a look at yourself in the mirror.”

In the Netflix series “Break Point,” Zverev accused Medvedev of playing “dirty games” and added: “He’s somebody that knows how to play with the head of the opponent.”

Crowds around the world have not escaped the wrath of Medvedev.

At the Paris Masters last year, he branded fans “stupid” for jeering during one of his matches.

Despite suggesting that he would halt his match, he agreed to continue, but warned his tormentors “shut your mouths, okay!“

Despite his fiery personality the chess-playing and fluent French-speaking Medvedev has reached the peaks of the sport.

At the 2021 US Open he claimed his only major title, easily defeating Novak Djokovic in the final and denying the Serb a rare calendar Grand Slam.

True to his unorthodox nature, Medvedev celebrated his New York victory by falling to the floor of the Arthur Ashe Stadium and imitating the “dead fish” celebration from a FIFA video game.

Medvedev has come agonizingly close to adding to his majors collection.

In this year’s Australian Open final he surrendered a two-set lead to lose to Jannik Sinner.

Two years ago in Melbourne he had opened a two-sets lead over Rafael Nadal only again to lose in five.

Nadal also got the better of him at the 2019 US Open final over another five-setter.

Away from the Slams, Medvedev is one of just six men to have captured six or more Masters titles, joining Djokovic, Roger Federer, Nadal, Andre Agassi and Andy Murray.

When he spent 16 weeks as world No. 1 in 2022, he was the first man other than Djokovic, Federer, Murray and Nadal in 18 years to attain top spot.

At the Paris Olympics, which open on Friday, Medvedev believes his best chance of a medal will be in doubles rather than singles, on a clay-court surface which has often been alien to his game.

“I’m going to prepare a lot for doubles and mixed doubles because I do believe I have more chances there than in Roland Garros singles,” he said.