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    How an Afghan Soccer Player Escaped the Taliban and Began a New Life

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    In Comebacks, Serena Williams Showed ‘You Can Never Underestimate Her’

    Big moments on the biggest stages cemented Williams’s reputation as the queen of comebacks.During the 2012 U.S. Open final, Serena Williams was so close to losing that the idea of a comeback seemed out of the question.Her opponent, Victoria Azarenka, had gone up 5-3 in the final set, giving her numerous ways to put Williams away.“I was preparing my runners-up speech,” Williams said.Instead, she delivered what became a signature comeback of her career, breaking Azarenka’s serve twice and winning the championship without losing another game.The significance of that victory went beyond the title itself, as it turned around a year in which she had lost in the first round of the French Open. And as Williams comes close to retiring, that win illustrates how many fans will remember her tennis career — Williams coming back time and again under difficult circumstances.Here are some of the moments that helped Williams build that reputation.Australian Open, 2007Dean Treml/Agence France-Presse – Getty ImagesAfter struggling with a knee injury for much of 2006, Williams went into the 2007 Australian Open unseeded and ranked No. 81. But she went on to win the tournament, defeating Maria Sharapova.“She goes months without playing a match, loses in a tuneup and then runs the table,” Jon Wertheim, a Tennis Channel commentator and author, said.Pam Shriver, an ESPN tennis analyst, said that Williams entered the Australian Open that year in poor shape, but that by the end of the tournament, “she almost looked like a different player.”“That was one of the most memorable comebacks that I can remember that resulted in a major championship,” Shriver said.After the match, Sharapova said to the crowd in Rod Laver Arena that “you can never underestimate her as an opponent.”“I don’t think many of you expected her to be in the final, but I definitely did,” Sharapova said.2011 Health ScareChris Trotman/Getty ImagesIn February 2011, Williams was hospitalized with a pulmonary embolism. Williams recovered in time to play Wimbledon, and later revealed the seriousness of her health scare.“I was literally on my deathbed at one point,” Williams said at the time. The circumstances, she said, changed her perspective, and she went into Wimbledon that year with “nothing to lose.”Serena Williams’s Farewell to TennisThe U.S. Open could be the tennis star’s last professional tournament after a long career of breaking boundaries and obliterating expectations.Decades of Greatness: Over 27 years, Serena Williams dominated generation after generation of opponents and changed the way women’s tennis is played, winning 23 Grand Slam singles titles and cementing her reputation as the queen of comebacks.Is She the GOAT?: Proclaiming Williams the greatest women’s tennis player of all time is not a straightforward debate, our columnist writes.An Enduring Influence: From former and current players’ memories of a young Williams to the new fans she drew to tennis, Williams left a lasting impression.Her Fashion: Since she turned professional in 1995, Williams has used her clothes as a statement of self and a weapon of change.Williams made it to the round of 16. Then, she won her next two tournaments, the Bank of the West Classic in California and the Rogers Cup in Canada. She finished her year by reaching the U.S. Open final, where she lost to Samantha Stosur.“That comeback was unbelievable,” Shriver said. “No matter the score, no matter whatever, she still thought she could win.”2012 Summer RunDoug Mills/The New York TimesWilliams was eliminated from the 2012 Australian Open in the round of 16, and she was upset at that year’s French Open, where she was knocked out in the first round.“When she lost in the French Open in the first round, the career buzzards came circling,” Wertheim said. “There were plenty of times her career was supposed to be over, and she came back. The obvious one is 2012.”Williams responded to the losses by training under a new coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who went on to work with her for the next decade.And after that French Open, Williams went on a streak. She won Wimbledon before taking the gold medals in women’s singles and doubles at the London Olympics, and then she delivered her win against Azarenka at the U.S. Open, “playing some of the most inspiring tennis of her career,” Wertheim said.French Open, 2015Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesAt the French Open in 2015, Williams lost the first set of three consecutive matches. Each time, she came back to win in three sets.“Opponents were points away from eliminating her, and Serena simply refused to go off the court anything other than the winner,” Wertheim said.Williams went on to win the semifinal while dealing with a bout of the flu.The day after the semifinal, still sick, Williams said she briefly thought about withdrawing from the final.“Out of 10 — a 10 being like take me to the hospital — I went from like a 6 to a 12 in a matter of two hours,” she said at the time. “I was just miserable. I was literally in my bed shaking, and I was just shaking, and I just started thinking positive.”Williams won the final for her 20th major singles title.Pregnancy ComebackClive Mason/Getty ImagesIn 2017, Williams surprised the tennis world when she shared that she had won that year’s Australian Open while she was close to two months pregnant.Williams missed the rest of the 2017 tennis season, and had another major health scare after she gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian. Williams was bedridden for her six weeks after she had blood clots in her lungs. Severe coughing caused her cesarean section wound to open. And doctors found a large hematoma, a collection of blood outside the blood vessels, in her abdomen.She returned to tennis in 2018, when she reached the Wimbledon final (where she lost to Angelique Kerber) and the U.S. Open final (where she lost to Naomi Osaka). The following year, she reached the Wimbledon final (losing to Simona Halep) and the U.S. Open final again (losing to Bianca Andreescu).“To have a child in the north half of your 30s and reach four major finals is an extraordinary feat that hasn’t gotten the full due,” Wertheim said.The Farewell ComebackHiroko Masuike/The New York TimesWilliams was forced to withdraw early in her first-round Wimbledon match last year because of an injury. She was given a standing ovation as she walked off the court in tears, as many began to wonder whether it would be the last time Williams would appear at the All England Club.She returned to Centre Court at Wimbledon this year but was defeated in the first round. She continued to struggle after that, losing early in the tournaments she has entered. At the National Bank Open in Toronto, Coco Gauff said that she was moved by how Williams has continued playing and “giving it her all.”“There’s nothing else she needs to give us in the game,” Gauff told reporters. “I just love that.”Williams will attempt one more comeback at this year’s U.S. Open. Along with her singles draw, she will also play in the women’s doubles tournament, partnered with her sister Venus. While we wait to see how this comeback takes shape, one certainty, Shriver said, is that Williams will be playing with the support of her fans.“The crowd is going to be crazy,” Shriver said. “I think the noise on a Serena win will be some of the loudest noise we’ve ever heard at the U.S. Open.” More

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    Nick Kyrgios, a Dream and a Nightmare for Wimbledon, Is Winning

    The Australian’s matches and news conferences have become irresistible theater — some call them a circus — that is a blessing and a curse for a sport battling for attention.WIMBLEDON, England — All white is the dress code at Wimbledon, the oldest and most traditional of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments. So when Nick Kyrgios wears a black hat for his on-court interview, he is sending a message.And that’s what he did Saturday night on the No. 1 Court, after his emotional, fireworks-filled, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (7) win over Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the No. 4 seed.As Wimbledon enters its second week, the women’s tournament is wide open and there is potential for a men’s final of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, which looks more inevitable each day. And then there is Kyrgios, a dangerous and disruptive force who has so much pure talent, but is so temperamental and combustible that the sport can neither control him nor ignore him.He plays when he feels like it, then disappears for months, only to return to wreak havoc and provide headline-grabbing theater.“Everywhere I go I’m seeing full stadiums,” he said after his battle with Tsitsipas. “The media loves to write that I am bad for the sport but clearly not.”Kyrgios is an immensely talented Australian who has an ambivalent relationship with the rigors and requirements of professional tennis. He relishes his role as the game’s great outlaw, unafraid to jaw with, spit toward or berate judges and umpires.He badgers the young workers on the court for not keeping the changeover chairs stocked with fresh towels and bananas. He smashes rackets. One ricocheted off the ground and very nearly crashed into the face of a ball boy at a tournament in California this year. His boorish displays regularly garner tens of thousands of dollars in fines.Then he will return to the court and fire one of the most dangerous serves in the game. He puts on the sort of magical shotmaking clinics — shots between the legs, curling forehands, underhanded aces — that other players can only dream about.He is the ticking time bomb who packs stadiums and has hordes of young fans. He is at once the sport’s worst nightmare and its meal ticket: hard to watch but also hard to ignore.When he loses, it’s always someone else’s fault. When he wins, it’s because he has overcome all manner of forces against him: tournament directors, the news media, the tennis establishment, fans who have hurled racial slurs at him.“Unscripted. Unfiltered. Unmissable,” is how the @Wimbledon Twitter feed put it Saturday night as Kyrgios, in all of his brilliance and brattiness, overpowered and outfinessed Tsitsipas over three compelling hours.All evening, Kyrgios went after the chair umpire as well as the tournament referees and supervisors for not defaulting Tsitsipas after he angrily sent a ball into the crowd, coming dangerously close to directly hitting a fan on the fly. Kyrgios claimed the umpire surely would have sent him off had he done the same thing. (He may not be wrong on that one.)The nearly endless complaints and interruptions rattled Tsitsipas. He struggled to maintain his composure, complaining to the chair umpire that only one person on the court was interested in playing tennis, while the other was turning the match into a circus. Then he took matters into his own hands, and started trying to peg Kyrgios with his shots. The crowd of more than 10,000 grew louder with each confrontation.It became only more intense after Kyrgios finished off Tsitsipas in the tiebreaker with three unreturnable shots — a half-volley into the open court; a ripped, backhand winner; and a drop shot from the baseline that died on the turf just beyond Tsitsipas’s reach.The drama was cresting as the Tsitsipas and Kyrgios news conferences descended into a name-calling, insult-filled back and forth about decorum and who had more friends in the locker room.Tsitsipas, certain that Kyrgios had intentionally made a mess of the match — and probably steamed that Kyrgios had beaten him twice in a month’s time — said his fellow players needed to come together and set down rules that would rein in Kyrgios.“It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does,” Tsitsipas said of Kyrgios. “He bullies the opponents. He was probably a bully at school himself. I don’t like bullies. I don’t like people that put other people down. He has some good traits in his character, as well. But when he — he also has a very evil side to him, which if it’s exposed, it can really do a lot of harm and bad to the people around him.”Tsitsipas said he regretted swatting the ball into the crowd, but was less remorseful about another that he smacked across the net and into the scoreboard, earning a point penalty.“I was aiming for the body of my opponent, but I missed by a lot, by a lot,” he said. Then, he added, “When I feel like other people disrespect me and don’t respect what I’m doing from the other side of the court, it’s absolute normal from my side to act and do something about it.”“It’s constant bullying, that’s what he does,” Tsitsipas, above, said of Kyrgios.Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesKyrgios was watching all of this on a television nearby. Minutes later, he sat down behind the microphone, wearing that black cap and a T-shirt featuring Dennis Rodman, the onetime N.B.A. rebel, and a big grin. Once more, Tsitsipas had created a situation where Kyrgios could get the better of him, even allowing him the rare chance to take the high road and claim to be a kind of innocent.“He was the one hitting balls at me,” he said of Tsitsipas. “He was the one that hit a spectator. He was the one that smacked it out of the stadium.”He called Tsitsipas “soft” for letting Kyrgios’s conversations with tournament officials get to him.“We’re not cut from the same cloth,” he said of Tsitsipas. “I go up against guys who are true competitors. If he’s affected by that today, then that’s what’s holding him back, because someone can just do that and that’s going to throw him off his game like that. I just think it’s soft.”On Sunday, Wimbledon fined Tsitsipas $10,000 and Kyrgios $4,000 for their behavior.Tsitsipas’s mother is a former pro and his father is a tennis coach who reared his sons on the tennis court from an early age. Kyrgios is of Greek and Malay descent, and his father painted houses for a living.“I’m good in the locker room,” Kyrgios, now rolling, went on. “I’ve got many friends, just to let you know. I’m actually one of the most liked. I’m set. He’s not liked.”Then, one last dagger.Kyrgios said that he did not take the court to make a friend, to compliment his opponents on their play, and that he had no idea what he had done to make Tsitsipas so upset that he barely shook his hand at the end of the match.Every time he has lost, Kyrgios said, even when he has been thrown out of matches, he has looked his opponent in the eye and told him he was the better man.“He wasn’t man enough to do that today,” he said.The victory put Kyrgios into the round of 16, where he will play the American Brandon Nakashima on Centre Court on Monday. He is two wins from a possible semifinal showdown with Nadal, assuming the 22-time Grand Slam event champion can keep winning as well. It would be the ultimate hero-villain confrontation, a perfect setting for all manner of potential Kyrgios explosions and boorishness, but also, as that Twitter feed put it, unmissable theater.Nadal is known to be one of the game’s true gentlemen, a keeper of the unspoken codes between players. He has marveled at Kyrgios’s talent and questioned the baggage he brings to the court and the ordeals he often creates with umpires, especially when his chances of winning begin to slip away.On Saturday night, after winning his own match and hearing about the Kyrgios-Tsitsipas fracas, Nadal turned philosophical when asked when a player crossed the line, and whether Kyrgios goes too far. It is, he said, a matter of conscience.“I think everyone has to go to bed with being calm with the things that you have done,” Nadal said. “And if you can’t sleep with calm and being satisfied with yourself, it’s because you did things that probably were not ethical.”How does Kyrgios sleep? Only he knows. More

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    At the French Open, Novak Djokovic Aims for His 21st Slam Win

    The world No. 1 seemed poised to set the men’s record for major titles. Now, after a crushing loss and a vaccine controversy, Djokovic looks to get back on course at the French Open.Novak Djokovic has been here before, nipping at the heels of major title No. 21.He had a chance at the U.S. Open last summer. Winning the men’s singles final against Daniil Medvedev would have been a signal moment in sports. Djokovic would have burst through the logjam he’d shared with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal: 20 titles in majors, then the high-water mark in men’s tennis.And Djokovic would have become the first male player since Rod Laver in 1969 to achieve a Grand Slam, capturing Wimbledon and the French, Australian and U.S. Open titles in the same year.It wasn’t to be.Then he seemed destined to record his 21st victory in a Grand Slam event at this year’s Australian Open, the major where he has emerged victorious nine times. He makes playing in the Melbourne hothouse look like a stroll through a shady summer garden.But we know what happened instead.Djokovic was detained and then deported after a tense standoff over whether he should be allowed to compete in Australia despite having proudly refused to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.Novak Djokovic walking in Melbourne Airport in January, after his visa to play in the Australian Open was canceled.Loren Elliott/ReutersPoint made and the moment lost by both the Australian government and one of the world’s best-known anti-vaccine athletes.With the French Open underway, Djokovic is, at long last, trying again for his 21st major win. By virtue of his No. 1 ranking, he is the top seed in the men’s draw. “I’m going to Paris with confidence and good feelings about my chances there,” he said before the tournament.He said much the same the last two times he reached for the grail of 21 Grand Slam events. But it was Nadal who notched that historic record first, ahead of Djokovic and Federer, when Nadal stepped back into the vaults of greatness and beat Medvedev at the Australian Open in jaw-dropping fashion.Can Djokovic get out of the stall and tie Nadal? If he doesn’t do it soon he may begin drawing comparisons with an equally talented, complex and perplexing champion — Serena Williams, who remains stuck one major behind Margaret Court’s record mark of 24.Like Williams, who at 40 is not playing on the tour and may be heading toward retirement, Djokovic faces snarling pressure to keep up with his peers. It is not getting any easier. On Sunday, he turned 35. His window is closing — the ability to call on match-to-match consistency narrows with each grinding season.Consider all he has faced this year. Global anger over his determination to steer clear of vaccination. The hangover from the crushing loss in the final of the U.S. Open. The months when he looked like a meager facsimile of his old self on the tennis court.After Australia, he was barred from playing in two big hardcourt tournaments, in Indian Wells and Miami, because the United States wisely required foreign visitors to be vaccinated to enter the country. Then came a stretch of choppy, angst-riddled play, which we had not seen from him in years. There were early-round defeats to the 123rd and 46th players in the world. Before adoring hometown fans, he struggled through the Serbia Open and crumbled in the finals. He fell in Madrid to the 19-year-old Spanish upstart Carlos Alcaraz.Can Djokovic win his 21st at the French Open? There was little hint he would be up to the task until this month in Rome, at the last big tuneup before Roland Garros.In Rome, it was all there again for Djokovic: lithe, deep and consistent returns, a pickpocket’s moxie during the tensest moments. Djokovic did not lose a set all tournament. In the final, where he defeated fourth-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas, he took the opening stanza, 6-0.Djokovic returned to form, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Italian Open final two weeks ago.Julian Finney/Getty ImagesHe looked back on Australia and the brutal aftermath in a news conference and spoke of how the experience would not bow him. Djokovic promised to turn the jagged pain of having been barred from play and the pressure he felt from the backlash to his favor. “It will fuel me,” he said, steely eyed, “for the next challenge.”Such a mind-set is as vintage Djokovic as his scythe-like down-the-line backhand.Left unmentioned was how he has been hailed a hero among the anti-vaccine crowd for his refusenik stance, a view that is impossible to fathom when the coronavirus has caused the death of at least six million people across the globe. He has even vowed that if it came between choosing whether to be vaccinated or keep playing professional tennis, he would remain on the sideline.His commitment to that stance is foolish, but his resistance offers a window into what makes Djokovic tick. Enduring stubbornness sets him apart more than his movement, consistency or dart-like accuracy.He is a true believer — on the court and off it — and he has long latched himself to some of the self-help movement’s wildest false claims, everything from telepathy to the notion that loving thoughts can change the molecular structure of water.Now you might think those ideas are pretty ridiculous. I sure do. But for Djokovic, clinging to belief in what may seem impossible has worked in astonishing ways.We’ve seen it countless times on the biggest stages.Remember his great escapes against Federer. The victories after facing two match points against Federer’s serve at the U.S. Open in 2010 and 2011. The marathon final win at Wimbledon in 2019, when he turned Federer away after the grass-court master held yet another pair of match points.Djokovic’s relentless belief in himself helped power some of his greatest victories, as in the 2019 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer, right.Nic Bothma/EPA, via ShutterstockI was there and can still hear the frenzied Centre Court crowd yelling, “Federer! Federer! Federer!” ringing in my ears. But that’s not what Djokovic heard. He said after the match that as the roars rose like a storm for his opponent, he mentally converted the rhythmic chants to something that spurred him on — “Novak! Novak! Novak!”Remember, too, the French Open of 2021, the bruising semifinal win against Nadal, the most recent act in the duo’s 58-match rivalry. The Serb followed that with a comeback from two sets down against Tsitsipas to win the championship.Now the French Open is again underway. Victory at Roland Garros is as intense a journey as exists in sports — especially now, as players deploy a mix of power, touch, bounding topspin and athleticism in ways that not long ago would have been unimaginable.Age and years of leg-churning wear on tour add another layer of difficulty. Look at Nadal, also 35 and currently battling foot and rib injuries severe enough to stir rumors of imminent retirement.These two will again try to fend off a cast of younger stars in Paris. They will have eyes steady on one in particular: Alcaraz, who plays with the limitless élan of a teen and a veteran’s wisdom and strength.All three are in the same half of the draw in Paris, bidding for a spot in the finals. Can Djokovic make it that far and finally win No. 21? I won’t bet against a player so capable of conjuring unshakable magic. More

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    Jack Newton, Golfer Whose Career Was Ended by an Accident, Dies at 72

    He won several tournaments before losing an arm when he walked into the propeller of a small plane. After he recovered, he taught himself to play golf one-handed.Jack Newton, who lost to Tom Watson in a 1975 British Open playoff and tied for second behind Seve Ballesteros at the 1980 Masters before his professional golf career ended in a near-fatal aircraft propeller accident, died on Friday. He was 72.His family said in a statement that Newton, who had been living with Alzheimer’s disease, died from “health complications.” The statement did not say where he died.Newton won the Buick Open on the PGA Tour in 1978 and the Australian Open in 1979, as well as three tournaments in Europe, before his career — and nearly his life — ended when he walked into the propeller of a small plane he was about to board at Sydney airport on July 24, 1983.His right arm was severed, he lost sight in his right eye, and he sustained severe injuries to his abdomen. Doctors gave him only a 50-50 chance of surviving, and he spent nearly two months in intensive care before undergoing a long rehabilitation.Despite his near-death experience, Newton returned to public life, his jovial personality intact. He became a popular television, radio and newspaper golf commentator, a golf-course designer and the chairman of the Jack Newton Junior Golf Foundation, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for up-and-coming players in Australia.Newton with his wife, Jackie, and their children, Clint and Kristie, in 1984. A year earlier, he had lost an arm in an aircraft propeller accident.William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesThe foundation’s annual tournament attracted a who’s who of celebrities and pro golfers in Australia, most of whom dressed up in outlandish costumes as encouraged by Newton.He taught himself to play golf one-handed, swinging the club with his left hand in a right-handed stance. He regularly had scores in the mid-80s for 18 holes — which translates to a handicap of about 12 or 14, one that most able-bodied amateur players would aspire to.Newton turned professional in 1971 on the European Tour and won his first event, the Dutch Open, the next year. A week later, he won a tournament in Fulford, England; in 1974, he won the tour’s match play championship.His playoff loss in the 1975 British Open came after Watson had a few lucky shots. A wire fence kept Watson’s ball in bounds on the eighth hole, and he chipped for an eagle at the 14th to claim the Claret Jug by a shot over Newton.“I always felt that if I came into a major with some good form, then I could be dangerous,” Newton said. “That’s the way I played golf. Once I got my tail up I wasn’t afraid of anybody.”Newton in action during the 1980 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.Augusta National/Getty ImagesAt the 1980 Masters, he finished the tournament tied for second with the American Gibby Gilbert, four strokes behind the 21-year-old Ballesteros of Spain.Gavin Kirkman, the chief executive of PGA of Australia, said that Newton’s “contribution and legacy will live on for many decades to come,” adding that he “was as tough off the course as he was on it.”Newton is survived by his wife, Jackie; two children, Kristie and Clint; and six grandchildren. His daughter was a pro golfer, and his son played rugby in Australia and Britain. More

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    Ashleigh Barty and Dylan Alcott's Secret Weapon Is a Former Nike Marketing Exec

    Some of the most important moments of this year’s Australian Open took place far from a tennis court and had nothing to do with a certain vaccine-averse Serbian champion.Ben Crowe, a mind-set and life coach whose clients include the women’s world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, who is carrying the hopes of her nation for a championship, and Dylan Alcott, another Australian who is among the greatest wheelchair players, does little work on the court itself.Crowe and Alcott often meet in a cafe for their regular check-ins during the tournament because Alcott loves to be around people. Last week, as Barty prepared for her third-round match, against Camila Giorgi, she and Crowe did their prematch check-in while walking Molly, Crowe’s spanador, a mix of a Labrador retriever and a cocker spaniel, in Melbourne Park.“Ash loves dogs so that makes for a good setting,” Crowe said in a recent interview. “It creates a happy place to converse. And we’ll talk about anything. Dogs or house renovations.”Crowe discussed a match this week with Dylan Alcott, who has advanced to the men’s singles quad wheelchair final at the Australian Open.Tennis players and athletes in nearly every sport have been using sports psychologists and mind-set coaches for years. Never before has mental health been such a primary focus, especially in tennis, which lost one of its biggest stars, Naomi Osaka, for nearly half of 2021 as she dealt with psychological problems connected to the sport and her performance.Crowe took a circuitous route to his role as a guru to some of the biggest names in sports. He worked as a marketing executive at Nike in the 1990s, trying to connect the stories of athletes to the industry behemoth and make piles of cash for both parties.He worked closely with Australian athletes, including Cathy Freeman, an Olympic sprinter, on her campaigns ahead of the Games in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000, but also with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. He became close with Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, who loves both tennis and Australia.Eventually, Crowe realized it was far more important to athletes for them to truly understand who they were, their back stories and why they did what they did, rather than tying a drummed-up version of their narrative to a global corporation hoping to sell more sneakers and T-shirts.During major competitions like the Australian Open, Crowe usually watches his clients’ matches from the stands, paying close attention to their decisions and body language.“You need to separate the person from the persona, separate the self-worth from the business card,” he said. “I try to get them to answer the questions: Who am I fundamentally? And, What do I want from this crazy thing called life?”Crowe has also worked with the professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore and the Richmond club in Australian rules football.Away from tournaments and matches, he talks with clients weekly for about an hour during occasionally humorous sessions that focus on finding a balance between achievement and fulfillment. There is a simplicity in Crowe’s bedrock principles:Focusing on the future or the past is wasted energy because we can’t control either one.No point in a tennis match is worth more than any other, so why bother treating them any differently.If you have to do something or achieve something to be someone, you will never be content.We don’t know ourselves enough, and the bits we do know we don’t love enough.At a major competition like the Australian Open, Crowe usually watches his clients’ matches from the stands, paying close attention to their decision making and body language, trying to notice if the things they cannot control — the crowd, the weather, the opponent — might be distracting them. He attends their news conferences and chats with them before and after each match.Crowe is also a passionate surfer, and took a break from the tournament to hit the waves at Aireys Inlet, Australia.The deep work, though, occurs in the downtime between tournaments, when he delves with them into questions of identity and purpose.He said Alcott’s career took off and is now coming to a comfortable close because he came to understand he was playing tennis to help people like himself live better, healthier lives. This week, Alcott received a prestigious award, Australian of the year, given annually to leading citizens. He will play his last professional tennis match on Thursday, in the Australian Open wheelchair quad singles final, but his purpose will not change just because he is retiring.Barty, who left the sport for 18 months to pursue cricket, draws inspiration from playing for her country, Indigenous people and the team of coaches and trainers she is always crediting for her success. She will meet Madison Keys in a semifinal match on Thursday, and is trying to become the first Australian woman to win the tournament’s singles championship since 1978.His tennis clients, he said, have learned to accept their weaknesses and vulnerabilities and the endless uncertainty that professional sport and life ultimately bring.“If there is one thing the pandemic has shown it’s that we don’t do uncertainty very well, and uncertainty is vulnerability, and we don’t do vulnerability very well,” Crowe said. “So you either align yourself with the uncertainty or you suffer.” More

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    For Nadal and His Contemporaries, It Is About Winning, and Quickly

    At 35 years old, getting through the first week dropping only one set gives the 20-time Grand Slam champion “energy in my pocket.” Aging tennis stars take note.Rafael Nadal knew something had to change.It was nearing midnight in Australia on Friday, and his match against Karen Khachanov of Russia was heading into its third hour. Nadal still had a comfortable lead, but the 25-year-old Khachanov was gaining strength and closing in on the third set. Nadal, a decade older, and just back from a nearly six-month rehabilitation from a chronic foot injury, needed to do whatever he could to avoid one of his classic battles of attrition. Nadal has often won those battles, and could still, but possibly at a significant cost.At this point in Nadal’s career, how he might win is as important as winning itself.And so for the final moments of the third set and then to start the fourth, Nadal crept a few steps closer to the baseline. He aimed his serves at the lines, and every time he saw a glimmer of an opening he went for it, instead of relying on his signature strategy of hitting eight shots to set up a winner on the ninth.“If I am able to have the break back, fantastic,” Nadal said later, describing his return to the strategy that had allowed him to gain the early upper hand on Khachanov. “If not, on the fourth I’m going to start playing more aggressive again. Let’s see if it works.”Nadal played a backhand against Khachanov.Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesThe results of the experiment came fast, with Nadal breaking Khachanov’s serve in the second game of the fourth set. Nadal blasted a service return for a winner, smacked an untouchable, cross-court forehand from what is supposed to be the backhand corner of the court for him, then sealed the break with a running backhand up the line. Then he crouched and pumped his fist four times, the finish line now just four games away.“You need to be quick on making the right decisions,” he said.There has always been an urgency to Nadal’s game. He ends every changeover with a sprint back onto the court. But what has become apparent for him and his aging contemporaries in Australia over the past week is how important taking care of business on the court quickly has become.Nadal, who said he could barely play for more than a half-hour without his foot causing him pain just six weeks ago, has won nine of 10 sets in three matches at the Australian Open. In his warm-up tournament, he won all six of the sets he played in three matches on his way to the title.Gaël Monfils, the 35-year-old Frenchman now playing some of the best tennis of his career, is on a similar efficiency tear. Monfils has not dropped a set in three matches and also won a tuneup event in Australia earlier this month.Gaël Monfils returned against Cristian Garin.Aaron Francis/Agence France-Presse Via Getty ImagesHe came awfully close to losing a set Friday afternoon against Cristian Garin of Chile, who had what appeared to be a commanding 4-1 lead in the first-set tiebreaker. But then Monfils found a way to do his Monfils thing, throwing those long arms and legs and his lusty movement into every shot. A few big serves and then a perfect backhand down the line gave Monfils the set and from there he was in cruise control, chattering with his wife, Elina Svitolina, who had lost earlier in the day, as she watched from the stands.“Very lucky and fortunate to win this breaker, and I just think I was solid enough to win in straight sets,” Monfils said.Monfils, who faces Miromir Kecmanovic of Serbia in the fourth round, and Nadal, who will play Adrian Mannarino of France, do not have to look far for the cautionary tale.The week did not work out the way Andy Murray had wanted or hoped or thought it would, especially after his travels to Australia started on such a high note.Last week, as Novak Djokovic sucked up most of the tennis oxygen, Murray stormed under the radar into the final of a tuneup tournament in Sydney, with wins over the much higher-ranked David Goffin, Reilly Opelka, and Nikoloz Basilashvili. He dropped the final to Aslan Karatsev, but that seemed almost beside the point.Murray’s forever comeback from hip resurfacing surgery seemed to be rounding into form, especially after he prevailed in his first round match over Basilashvili, a five-set marathon that thrilled but also likely doomed the rest of the tournament for Murray. Murray smothered Basilashvili, the hard-hitting and freewheeling Georgian, in the first set and looked like he was going to have a short afternoon. There he was, defending in the corners, landing flashy angled winners and displaying the creative arsenal that made him the world’s top player five years ago.“Really disappointed,” Andy Murray said of his second-round loss to Taro Daniel.Dave Hunt/EPA, via ShutterstockBut three hours later he was still battling, and after the win, he spoke like a player who understood well that success on the court now was as much about how he wins as it is about whether he wins.Murray said he has been talking about this with his team for some time, which makes sense. His Grand Slam appearances since the start of the pandemic have included either an epic win followed by a quick loss or just a loss in an epic.Murray and his crew have batted around the idea of playing more aggressively, trying to end points more quickly with more aggressive shots. But that, he said, carries the risk of losing more games, resulting in longer matches, especially now, when he is playing what he characterized as “top 20 level tennis,” as opposed to top five or top two. They decided the fastest route to victories is to play better rather than different.“Playing my game style but playing it at a higher level,” he said. “When I look back at a lot of my matches in like 2015, 2016, like I was quite sort of efficient and clinical, like when I had opportunities and when I was, you know, ahead of guys, I’d finish them off quickly.”The price for not finishing them off is plain. Two days after the marathon win against Basilashvili, Murray came out flat and allowed Taro Daniel of Japan, a 28-year-old journeyman ranked 120th, who has never been ranked higher than 64th, to dispatch him in three sets. Murray could not recall ever losing in a Grand Slam to someone ranked outside the top 100.“Really disappointed,” he said of a result that had him questioning whether he would play another Australian Open, especially if his results at Grand Slams do not improve. “Making second rounds of slams is not something I find particularly motivating.”Murray, of course, would like once more to be playing in the second week of the most important tournaments, something Nadal did not realize was going to be possible this quickly, and at a time when figuring out how to win quickly has never been more important, with Friday’s win serving as the latest evidence.“I made the right decisions,” he said. More

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    Australia Releases Judges’ Reasoning on Djokovic Expulsion

    In ruling in favor of the Australian government’s decision to revoke the visa of Novak Djokovic, the panel of three judges who oversaw the case reasserted the broad authority of the country’s immigration minister and found that he had acted in a way that was both reasonable and rational, according to the ruling released on Thursday.The court’s decision, which extinguished Mr. Djokovic’s chance of winning a record 21st men’s Grand Slam title in Melbourne this year, concluded a volatile saga that prompted debate over immigration law, celebrity entitlement and vaccinations.The ruling, released by the Federal Court of Australia, was the first public statement of the court’s reasoning.“An iconic world tennis star may influence people of all ages, young or old, but perhaps especially the young and the impressionable, to emulate him,” the panel of three judges found. “This is not fanciful; it does not need evidence.”The court noted the broad authority of the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, to control entry into the country and found he was well within his rights to cancel Mr. Djokovic’s visa on the grounds of “health and good order.”The legal question, the judges said, was not whether Mr. Djokovic actually posed a risk to health, safety and good order to the country, but whether Mr. Hawke was “satisfied” that his presence in the country might amount to one.Once held up as an example of how nations could keep Covid cases low, Australia is now tackling its most severe surge since the pandemic began.Ultimately, Mr. Hawke’s reasons for revoking the visa — in part, that Mr. Djokovic’s position as a sporting role model who chose to remain unvaccinated against Covid-19 could “foster anti-vaccination sentiment” — were not “irrational or illogical or not based on relevant material,” the three judges said.Though Mr. Hawke did not have to provide his reasons for canceling Mr. Djokovic’s visa, the judgment said they were “carefully drafted,” and showed that he had exercised the discretionary power lawfully.“Another person in the position of the minister may have not canceled Mr. Djokovic’s visa,” the judges wrote. “The minister did.” More