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    No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, Just 25, Retiring From Tennis

    The three-time Grand Slam champion said in a social media post, “the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to put the rackets down.”At the top of her sport, Ashleigh Barty is retiring from tennis.In a stunning move, Barty, the No. 1-ranked women’s player who won her country’s major tournament, the Australian Open, in January, announced on Wednesday that she was leaving tennis for other pursuits.Barty, who turns 26 next month, posted a video to Instagram announcing her decision through a conversation with her compatriot Casey Dellacqua, a retired player, one of her closest friends and a former doubles partner. Barty said she also would hold a news conference.“It’s hard to say, but I’m so happy and I’m so ready,” Barty said. “And I just know at the moment in my heart for me as a person, this is right.”She added, “I’m so grateful to everything that tennis has given me — it’s given me all of my dreams, plus more — but I know that the time is right now for me to step away and chase other dreams and to put the rackets down.”It was the third time that Barty had stepped away from professional tennis but the first time that she had announced her retirement. In 2014, at age 17, when she already was one of the sport’s top doubles players, she took an indefinite break from the tour, citing the pressures generated by early success. During that 17-month hiatus, she played professional cricket but returned to tennis in early 2016 reinvigorated and began her climb to the summit.Barty also took an 11-month break from the tour at the onset of the pandemic, remaining in Australia instead of traveling to tournaments abroad even after the tour’s five-month hiatus ended in August 2020.But her surprise retirement announcement, coming with the tour back in full swing and after her latest triumph in Melbourne, is clearly a decision that she has considered at length and from a position of strength.“There was a perspective shift in me in the second phase of my career that my happiness wasn’t dependent on the results and success for me is knowing that I’ve given absolutely everything, everything I can,” Barty told Dellacqua. “I’m fulfilled. I’m happy.”“I know how much work it takes to bring the best out of yourself,” she said, later adding, “It’s just I don’t have that in me anymore. I don’t have the physical drive, the emotional want and kind of everything it takes to challenge yourself at the very top level anymore and I think I just know that I’m absolutely, I am spent.”She is the first women’s player to retire while on top of the singles rankings since the Belgian star Justine Henin unexpectedly announced her retirement in May 2008. Henin, like Barty, was just 25 years old and the reigning champion at two Grand Slam tournaments: the French Open and the U.S. Open in Henin’s case. Henin later returned to the tour in 2010, although she never won another major title.If Barty sticks with her decision, she will be the first player to retire after winning a Grand Slam singles title since Pete Sampras, the American star who did not play another match after winning the 2002 U.S. Open, announcing his retirement nearly a year later.Barty winning the women’s singles final at the 2022 Australian Open.Dean Lewins/EPA, via ShutterstockBarty won 15 career singles titles, including three at Grand Slam tournaments: She won the French Open in 2019, Wimbledon in 2021 and the Australian Open this year.Barty said that winning Wimbledon, long considered the ultimate achievement for Australian tennis players with their country’s close ties to Britain, shifted her outlook on her career. Winning the Australian Open gave her a storybook ending.“To be able to win Wimbledon, which was my dream, my one true dream that I wanted in tennis, that really changed my perspective,” she said, adding, “And there was just a little part of me that wasn’t quite satisfied, wasn’t quite fulfilled. And then came the challenges of the Australian Open and I think that for me just feels like the most perfect way. My perfect way to celebrate what an amazing journey my tennis career has been.”Barty continued, “I’ve given absolutely everything I can to this beautiful sport of tennis and I’m really happy with that. And for me that is my success. And I know that people may not understand it and that’s OK. I’m OK with that. Because I know that for me, Ash Barty the person has so many dreams that she wants to chase after that don’t necessarily involve traveling the world, being away from my family, being away from my home, which is where I’ve always wanted to be.” More

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    The End of the Endless Final Set: Grand Slams Adopt Same Tiebreaker

    The French Open was the last major tennis tournament that allowed an “advantage final set” without a tiebreaker. Once the maker of many classic, marathon matches, the system is no more.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Tennis is entering a new era: one in which the marathon final sets that have concluded some of its greatest and longest matches are no longer an option.The Grand Slam Board announced Wednesday that beginning in May with the French Open, all four major tournaments will put in place a tiebreaker at 6-6 in decisive sets: the third set in women’s singles matches and the fifth set in men’s singles.The first player with at least 10 points and a 2-point margin will win the tiebreaker. The move was announced as a one-year trial, but is likely to be adopted permanently considering the extensive consultation behind it.The winds have been blowing in this direction for some time amid concerns about the pace of play, match lengths, player health and recovery times.“It’s good they have that uniformity now, but I guess what made them unique was also how each fifth set was different, so I can see both sides to it,” said John Isner, the American veteran whose first-round victory over Nicolas Mahut of France at Wimbledon in 2010 established a logic-defying record by stretching to 70-68 in the fifth set.If the new rules are embraced permanently, that mark will forever remain untouchable.“It was never going to get broken anyway, so those are my thoughts,” Isner said.It is difficult to argue. The final set of Isner-Mahut stretched across three days, monopolizing Court 18 at the All England Club and generating global interest for an otherwise obscure early-round match.There is a fascination created by two players pushing each other to their physical and mental limits; a particular sort of tension fostered by a marathon final set after competitors and spectators have invested so many hours in the outcome.“That’s just like an absolute battle,” said Taylor Fritz, the 24-year-old American who reached the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open.Fritz said ultralong final sets make it all but impossible for the victor to advance much further in a tournament. “You’re so done for your next match if you have one of those,” he said. “But it’s tradition, and I will miss seeing those crazy battles.”Before the Open era, there were no tiebreakers in any set at the Grand Slam tournaments or in the Davis Cup, the premier men’s team competition. A set was won by winning a minimum of six games by a margin of at least two. In one extreme example from the first round of Wimbledon in 1969, 41-year-old Pancho Gonzales defeated his fellow American Charlie Pasarell, 22-24, 1-6, 16-14, 6-3, 11-9, in a match that stretched over two days.The next year, a tiebreaker at six games all was introduced at the 1970 U.S. Open for all sets and was gradually adopted by the other Grand Slam tournaments and major team competitions for all sets except the final one.But after more than a century, the Davis Cup opted for a final-set tiebreaker in 2016 and the Australian Open and Wimbledon followed suit in 2019, though in different ways. The Australian Open opted for the extended first-to-10-points tiebreaker at 6-all and Wimbledon adopted a traditional first-to-seven tiebreaker at 12-all.The French Open continued to play out the fifth set, which left the four Grand Slam tournaments with four different methods of resolving decisive sets — a discrepancy that confused some players.In the middle of the fifth set of the 2019 Wimbledon men’s singles final, Novak Djokovic had to double check with the chair umpire when the tiebreaker would be played.The Grand Slam tournament leaders clearly wanted a tidier solution.“The Grand Slam Board’s decision is based on a strong desire to create greater consistency in the rules of the game at the Grand Slams, and thus enhance the experience for the players and fans alike,” the board said in its statement.Uniformity at least will provide clarity, and the first-to-10-points tiebreaker should allow for more suspense and momentum shifts than the first-to-seven system.But if the new rules are adopted after the trial, it will shrink the horizons of what constitutes an epic match.Many matches that are ranked among the greatest went into the tennis equivalent of overtime, which is certainly no coincidence.Bjorn Borg’s victory over John McEnroe in the 1980 Wimbledon final went to 8-6 in the fifth set; Rafael Nadal’s victory over Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final went to 9-7 in the fifth; Djokovic’s victory over Federer in the 2019 Wimbledon final went to 13-12 in the fifth with a tiebreaker at 12-all.At the French Open, Monica Seles’s victory over Steffi Graf in the exquisite 1992 final went to 10-8 in the third, and Jennifer Capriati’s victory over Kim Clijsters in the 2001 final stretched to 12-10 in the third.But marathons will not be out of the question in this new, streamlined tennis world. Consider the 2012 Australian Open men’s final, between Djokovic and Nadal, the longest singles final in Grand Slam history in terms of elapsed time. They played for 5 hours 53 minutes and were so spent by the time Djokovic finished his victory that both needed chairs at the award ceremony.But that match, undoubtedly one of the greatest in tennis history, would not have been shortened by a tiebreaker under the unified rules announced on Wednesday.It ended at 7-5 in the fifth. More

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    Djokovic Willing to Miss Grand Slam Tournaments to Stay Unvaccinated

    The top men’s tennis player — for now — has expressed a desire to be “in tune” with his body that has left him badly out of tune with his sport and the times.It should not come as a revelation at this stage, but Novak Djokovic is not backing down.Not after all the drains on his energy and blows to his image. Not after twice being detained in Melbourne, Australia, last month. Not after his deportation from that country on the eve of the year’s first Grand Slam tournament. Not after being forced to watch from afar as his longtime rival Rafael Nadal took the career lead with a 21st major men’s singles title.For now, Djokovic will still not get vaccinated against the coronavirus, no matter how much it costs him, as he made clear in an interview with the BBC that was broadcast on Tuesday and in which the interviewer, Amol Rajan, summed up a fair share of the global mood by abandoning journalistic sang-froid and imploring: “Why Novak, why, why?”“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic answered. “I’m trying to be in tune with my body as much as I possibly can.”That approach has him out of tune with his sport and his times. According to the ATP, the men’s tennis tour, he is the only one of the top 100 ranked men’s singles players who has not been vaccinated against Covid-19. In an international sport that often requires players to cross borders on a weekly basis, his freedom of movement and access to tournaments will be limited depending on local pandemic restrictions.Djokovic won the 2021 French Open, but may not be allowed to play there this year.Pete Kiehart for The New York TimesThat cannot be easy for a self-described libertarian, but this is Djokovic’s choice, pure and simple, even if it resonates far beyond his personal space.Though he plans to return to action for the ATP event in Dubai next week, his status as an unvaccinated foreigner means he will not be permitted to enter the United States to take part in the top-tier tournaments next month in Indian Wells, Calif., and in Miami unless he is granted an exemption. That is considered unlikely based on the criteria, which does not include a prior coronavirus infection.Djokovic, who was infected with the coronavirus in 2020, reported testing positive again in Serbia on Dec. 16, 2021, which was the basis for his decision to travel to Melbourne for the Australian Open with what he believed to be a valid exemption from the country’s requirements for entry. Instead, he was deported after being detained and losing his final appeal, with the Australian government arguing successfully that his presence could risk promoting anti-vaccine sentiment in the country.Djokovic said he “completely disagreed” with that decision, but unless the rules in France change, Djokovic will not be allowed to play in the next Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, which begins in May. He also may not be allowed to participate in the Monte Carlo Open in April in the tax haven on the French Riviera, where he officially resides. Beginning Tuesday, the French government, which requires a vaccine passport for access to sports venues and other public facilities, will only allow a four-month grace period for those who have been infected but are unvaccinated. His grace period would expire in April.But Djokovic, still the world No. 1 in men’s singles, calmly said on Tuesday that he was ready to accept the consequences, even if it meant that it denied him the chance to win the race to be considered the greatest of all time.“That is the price I’m willing to pay,” he said.Djokovic supporters outside the Federal Court of Australia during his hearing in January.Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesIt is unclear how high that price will be. He will still have access to numerous tournaments. The men’s tour strongly encourages vaccination but has not mandated it. National regulations are shifting rapidly. Today’s closed border could be open in a few months, or even a few weeks. France has a presidential election this spring that could lead to a change in government and coronavirus policy and perhaps fling open the gates to Roland Garros.Djokovic reserves the right to change his mind on vaccination, but for now his approach does put him at a competitive disadvantage and will likely cost him the No. 1 ranking in the coming weeks as Daniil Medvedev of Russia closes in.Djokovic holds the men’s record for total weeks at No. 1 at 360 (and counting). He is the only man to have won the nine Masters 1000 events and he has won them twice. He also holds a head-to-head edge over his biggest rivals: Nadal and Roger Federer.But the overall Grand Slam record is what glitters most brightly at this stage, and Nadal has 21 major singles titles to Djokovic’s and Federer’s 20. Djokovic is the defending champion at the French Open but if he is unable to play, Nadal will be an even bigger favorite after winning it an astonishing 13 times already.Djokovic faces the shifting landscape in men’s tennis as younger players, including Daniil Medvedev, rise.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesDjokovic should have access to Wimbledon unless Britain’s coronavirus policy changes. He has been the most successful grass-court player in recent years, winning at the All England Club six times. But playing in the U.S. Open, the year’s final Grand Slam tournament, will be problematic with the United States’ ban on unvaccinated foreigners.“The United States Tennis Association and the U.S. Open will welcome all players who abide by the guidelines put forth by the U.S. government, by the City of New York and by the tournament,” said Chris Widmaier, a spokesman for the U.S.T.A., on Tuesday.Missing three of the four majors in one season would be quite a blow to Djokovic’s quest to finish atop the Grand Slam count. After being deported last month, he is also banned for three years from visiting Australia, although Australian government officials have indicated that this ban could be rescinded.Djokovic also must deal with the shifting landscape in men’s tennis. A younger generation of talented and powerful players is rising, including Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime.At 34, Djokovic will need to remain sharp to stay on the cutting edge but Nadal, 35, and Federer, 40, already have proven that it is possible to win majors at advanced ages for tennis.Djokovic has polarized opinion like neither of his rivals, however. Though he reaffirmed on Tuesday that he does not want to be associated with the anti-vaccine movement, his high profile and the wall-to-wall coverage of the Australian fiasco have guaranteed quite the contrary.“Because the principles of decision-making on my body are more important than any title or anything else,” Djokovic said of his reasoning.Ben Solomon for The New York Times“It’s really unfortunate there has been this kind of misconception and wrong conclusion that has been made around the world based upon something I completely disagree with,” he said.If so, it would certainly have helped if he had made that clear long ago instead of dodging the subject and questions about his vaccination status. His decision to speak with the BBC seemed an admission that his prior approach had created too much ambiguity. He talked about feeling wounded by the “looks” from his fellow players in Melbourne after he won his initial appeal and practiced on site ahead of the tournament.But then for a man who speaks six languages, Djokovic has long had a communication problem. He has a restless spirit and intellect and has sometimes been his own worst enemy: making choices that backfire, like knocking himself out of the 2020 U.S. Open by inadvertently striking a lineswoman in the throat with a ball that he had whacked in frustration.It was not the first time that Djokovic had angrily struck a ball. But though his aim and judgment have failed him rather too often, he is one of the most resilient of modern champions, emerging from wartime Serbia to break up the Federer-Nadal duopoly. He bounced back from an extended slump and a lingering elbow injury to dominate again in 2018. He rebounded from that U.S. Open misadventure in 2020 to come within one match of a true Grand Slam in 2021.He has overcome many obstacles, some of his own creation, during his long and phenomenal run atop men’s tennis, but this is new territory. To bounce back again and rejoin the historical chase, he must first be able to compete. More

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    Djokovic Is Willing to Skip Wimbledon and French Open to Avoid Vaccine

    Novak Djokovic said he was prepared to miss the French Open, Wimbledon and other tournaments if he was required to get a coronavirus vaccine to compete.In an interview with the BBC that was broadcast on Tuesday, the Serbian tennis star said he believed the freedom to choose what goes into his body was “more important than any title, or anything else.”Mr. Djokovic said he understood that his vaccination status meant that he was “unable to travel to most of the tournaments at the moment,” but, he added, “That is the price that I’m willing to pay.”Mr. Djokovic’s decision to remain unvaccinated, even after he was unable to compete in the Australian Open, may delay his quest to win more Grand Slam titles than his rivals. (The Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal was able to clinch a record 21st Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.)The French authorities said last month that players must be vaccinated to compete in the French Open, the next of the four Grand Slam tournaments. Mr. Djokovic might be able to compete in Wimbledon in June, but according to recent guidelines, he may not be able to compete in the U.S. Open in August.Mr. Djokovic told the BBC that he was not against vaccinations generally and that he did not want to be associated with the anti-vaccination movement, but that his decision about the coronavirus vaccine was personal.“As an elite professional athlete, I’ve always carefully reviewed, assessed everything that comes in from the supplements, food, the water that I drink or sports drinks — anything, really anything that comes into my body as a fuel,” he said in the interview, which was recorded on Monday. “Based on all the informations that I got, I decided not to take the vaccine as of today.” More

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    Can Nadal Extend His Grand Slam Record at the French Open?

    Nadal could strike quickly for Grand Slam singles title No. 22, particularly if Novak Djokovic, the only man to beat him twice in Paris, is unable to play because he remains unvaccinated.MELBOURNE, Australia — After Rafael Nadal’s stupendous comeback in the Australian Open final on Sunday night, it is he — not Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer — who is the first man to win 21 Grand Slam singles titles.Fairly or unfairly, it is the tennis record that matters most these days. Though Sunday’s outcome hardly ends the debate about who is the greatest men’s player of all time (don’t forget Rod Laver), there is no doubt that Nadal is the greatest men’s clay-court player of all time.The French Open, which is played on red clay in Paris, begins on May 22. Nadal has won it 13 times, dominating as no man has dominated any major tennis tournament.It would be no surprise if Nadal struck quickly for Grand Slam singles title No. 22, particularly if Djokovic, the only man to beat him twice at Roland Garros, is unable to play in this year’s French Open because he remains unvaccinated against the coronavirus.Djokovic, who is still No. 1, was deported from Australia on Jan. 16, on the eve of the Australian Open, after his visa was revoked. For now, his chances of competing in Paris are unclear.The French government is banning athletes, both French and foreign, from accessing sports venues or taking part in events if they do not have a vaccination pass. But unvaccinated individuals can still hold a valid pass if they have had a recent coronavirus infection.For now, the exemption from vaccination is six months from the date of infection, but on Feb. 15, the grace period will be reduced to four months. That would mean Djokovic, who has presented evidence that he tested positive in Serbia on Dec. 16, would be eligible to compete in France until late April without being vaccinated.But the French government could change the rules on vaccination passes if case numbers or hospitalizations drop by the spring. The outcome of the French presidential election in April could also affect health policy, and there is the possibility, however remote, that French Open organizers could negotiate an exemption or extension of the grace period for unvaccinated players, even though there are hardly an overwhelming number of unvaccinated tour-level players at this stage.It seems too early to rule Djokovic, 34, out of Roland Garros, where he won the title last year. He beat Nadal there in a semifinal that peaked in a bravura third set before Nadal faded, in part because of the chronic foot pain that forced him to miss most of the rest of the season, including Wimbledon, the Olympics and the U.S. Open.“Look, if Novak does return, I think we’re talking about Rafa and Novak going into the French as the co-favorites,” said Darren Cahill, the ESPN analyst and leading coach. “Obviously you’ve got to be able to beat Rafa over five sets on clay, and we’ve seen how difficult that’s been, but Novak has been pretty damn impressive there the last few years.”Novak Djokovic at the Davis Cup in December.Juanjo Martin/EPA, via ShutterstockFor now, Djokovic is short on match play in 2022 after watching the Australian Open from afar (and sending a congratulatory message to Nadal, who was supposed to be in Djokovic’s section of the draw).Djokovic is entered and expected to play in the ATP tournament in Dubai that begins on Feb. 21. But if he remains unvaccinated, he would require an exemption to fly to the United States to compete in March in the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. and in the Miami Open. A prior coronavirus infection is not grounds for an exemption, but individuals with “documented medical contraindications” to receiving the vaccine can be granted one. It is unclear whether that provision could apply to Djokovic, who also holds a Serbian passport, or if he is even interested in traveling to the U.S. in March.But if Djokovic heads to Dubai, that will be a big hint that he is eager to compete, and a fired-up Djokovic will be a dangerous Djokovic given the frustration and humiliation he experienced in Australia.“I think Novak uses this to fuel the fire he’s always played with,” Cahill said. “I think he’s still searching for improvement in his game, and I think we’ll still see an unbelievable level from Novak over the next couple years.”Daniil Medvedev, who is ranked No. 2, was poised to become the top hardcourt player. He had already beaten Djokovic in last year’s U.S. Open final, a loss that prevented Djokovic from completing the Grand Slam.But Nadal’s victory, surprising and stirring, could open up new perspectives for Djokovic and Federer, who is 40 but training for the possibility of returning later this year, perhaps in time for Wimbledon, after another knee surgery in 2021. It is difficult to see Federer as a title favorite anywhere, but why not as a factor on grass or hardcourts?Nadal’s victory could serve as motivation for Federer.Neil Hall/EPA, via Shutterstock“I think what Rafa did can put a little fuel in Roger’s tank, too,” Cahill said. “Roger could say, ‘If Rafa is out there still doing it, why can’t I do it if I get healthy and still have that love of the game?’ So, I think this energizes the Big Three.”Nadal should feel energized once he recovers from his reaffirming run down under. He was walking gingerly on Monday as he posed for photos with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup in a Melbourne park after not getting to sleep until 5 o’clock that morning.A rout would not have felt right against Medvedev, considering how much Nadal relishes a good fight. He has talked about the joy in “suffering.” When he won his first Australian Open in five sets in 2009, he told a small group of us the next day, in his still-evolving English, that, “Maybe I like more fighting to win than to win.”That phrase still rang true 13 years later as Nadal escaped from big tennis trouble. Though Nadal has done prodigious things in his years on this earth (and clay), he had never rallied from a two-set deficit to win a Grand Slam title.His five-hour-and-24-minute triumph over Medvedev was one of Nadal’s trademark victories, up there with his defeat of Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final that is on every short list of the greatest matches.“That Wimbledon was two athletes in the prime of their careers playing unbelievable tennis,” Cahill said. “This was a little bit different because of the road Rafa had traveled to get there and the history behind it.”Nadal confirmed that the post-match emotions were more powerful at age 35. Medvedev might take note. He was so deflated by losing his lead and hearing the crowd cheer his errors — and roar for Nadal — that he said he was disillusioned with the sport and might not play past age 30.“The kid that was dreaming is not anymore in me after today,” Medvedev said. “It will be tougher to continue tennis when it’s like this.”Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the first Russian to man to win a major singles title, said Medvedev “will get over it in 10 days” as the disappointment fades.But Medvedev certainly has much to learn, not just from the final but from Nadal, who, unlike Medvedev, has never taunted a crowd or humiliated a chair umpire, both of which Medvedev did in Melbourne.Nadal has earned his passionate fan base, which was all the louder on Sunday because he was an underdog. But the Big Three’s collective staying power should make it clear to Medvedev and other young players that there is life after 30 on tour.Nadal has not only won 13 French Opens — a record that may never be broken — he has also won four U.S. Opens, two Wimbledons, two Olympic gold medals (one singles, one doubles), five Davis Cups and scores of other titles.But Sunday’s triumph was especially savory because it seemed so unlikely a few weeks earlier. Nadal’s foot condition, which had been slow to improve even after he had surgery on Sept. 11, had left him feeling powerless.Nadal said his condition, which affects a small bone in his foot, will never be entirely resolved, but he said it did not bother him in Melbourne as he chased down Medvedev’s drop shots and smacked forehand winners on the sprint.“His tennis I.Q. is off the charts,” his coach, Carlos Moyá, told L’Équipe, the French newspaper. “I don’t know if he’s the best player in the world, but he reads the game better than them all.”When an increasingly weary Medvedev began trying to shorten points with drop shots and unusually risky tactics, the message was not lost on Nadal.“I think that gave Rafa a lot of energy,’” Cahill said. “Just hang in there and keep pushing and pushing. You never know what’s going to happen.”Well, we know now, and it was extraordinary. More

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    Rafael Nadal Wins the Australian Open, His 21st Grand Slam Title

    Nadal broke his tie with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in men’s singles major career victories by beating Daniil Medvedev in five sets in the final.MELBOURNE, Australia — For an aging champion who has earned his reputation as one of the greatest competitors in sports, it was a fitting way to stand alone with 21 Grand Slam men’s singles titles.Down, two sets to none, in the Australian Open final, against the higher ranked and considerably younger Daniil Medvedev, Rafael Nadal did not simply count himself fortunate to have made it so far in a tournament he once considered himself unlikely to play.Instead, he did what he has done since he burst onto the tennis scene nearly 20 years ago as a longhaired teenager in pirate pants.He fought. He thought. He fought and thought some more, and his prize was his most unexpected major title and a victory, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, that was utterly suitable for archiving.It was a match awash in long rallies, momentum shifts, dazzling winners on the run and break points saved and converted. It started on Sunday evening in Melbourne and ended after 1 in the morning on Monday. It was 5 hours 24 minutes of true grit, and it broke Nadal’s tie with his greatest rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who are now tied for second on the men’s career list with 20 Grand Slam singles titles each.“For me, it’s just amazing,” Nadal said. “Being honest, one month and a half ago, I did not know if I will be able to be back on the tour playing tennis again, and today I am here in front of all of you having this trophy with me. You really don’t know how much I fought to be here.”Nadal, a Spaniard seeded sixth here, has proved many times that he does not beat himself. He just won’t. You need to pry a match and trophy from his hands, point by point, game by game, set by set. The second-seeded Medvedev, despite all his power and skills, could not manage it, losing his way midway through the third set and never quite figuring out how to correct course.Nadal gave him openings, no doubt, failing to serve out the championship at 5-4 in the fifth set with the crowd behind him as it was throughout this marathon of a match. But at 5-all, Medvedev could not capitalize. Nadal broke him right back and then served for the title again.This time, he did not blink. Let the record note that he clinched No. 21 by holding at love, winning a baseline rally, hitting a service winner, and then an ace and then a backhand volley winner into an open court that was an apt final touch to one of his masterpieces.It was not his cleanest or prettiest work of performance art. He had to draw outside the lines and erase some of his game plan to find a way to the finish, but this was definitive, vintage Nadal in that he managed to continue competing in the moment no matter how rocky the previous moment might have been.He is 35 and did not win a Grand Slam tournament in 2021 — losing to Djokovic in the semifinals of the French Open, the tournament where Nadal has reigned supreme, then playing only one more tournament the rest of the season because of a chronic foot problem.There were discussions with his family, friends and support team about retirement. But Nadal remains passionate about the game, and after recovering from the coronavirus in late December, he flew to Australia to try again.Nearly one month later, he has yet to lose a match in Melbourne, winning a warm-up tournament at Rod Laver Arena, then winning the main event by working his way through seven rounds in all sorts of ways and weather.He suffered in the heat against Denis Shapovalov in the quarterfinals, losing a two-set lead and seeking medical treatment off court before winning in five sets. But Sunday’s final was played under the lights in the evening.Medvedev, beaten by Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s Australian Open final, was the dominant player at the start this time.He extended Nadal in his two opening service games, then broke him at love in his next two service games to take firm command of the opening set.Rod Laver Arena during the men’s singles final match between Nadal and Daniil Medvedev.Paul Crock/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesThe second set quickly became more complicated — and spectacular — as they attacked, stretched and defended brilliantly. Nadal won a 40-shot rally, the longest of the match, finishing it with a crisply sliced backhand winner that landed on the sideline and earned a standing ovation and then his first break of serve.But his early lead proved unsustainable as Medvedev reeled him in, showing more consistency in the extended rallies and winning many more quick points with his bigger first serve.A Russian, Medvedev was prevailing in the duel between Nadal’s best shot (his bolo whip of a forehand) and his own best shot (a slap of a two-handed backhand). Medvedev finally broke back as Nadal served for the set in a marathon game and failed to convert a set point.Medvedev then rallied from 3-5 in the tiebreaker by winning the final four points to take what looked like a commanding two-set lead.Nadal hugged his father, Sebastián, after the match.Martin Keep/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesNadal has now won all four of the major tournaments at least twice. He won his first Australian Open title in 2009, defeating Federer in five sets and then consoling him as he broke down at the awards ceremony. But Nadal has often been the one in need of comforting in Melbourne since then.He lost four straight finals in radically different ways. In 2012, Djokovic beat him in a nearly six-hour test of skill and will that left both men struggling to stand as they awaited their trophies. In 2017, Federer, playing freely as he returned from injury, snuffed out Nadal’s own comeback story by rallying from 1-3 deficit in the fifth set.Then, in 2019, Djokovic dealt Nadal the most lopsided defeat of his career in a major final, dominating him, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Watching that rout and knowing Nadal’s history in Melbourne, it seemed difficult to imagine him winning another Australian Open.But Nadal surprised the field this year, and also surprised himself. More

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    Ashleigh Barty Wins Australian Open Women’s Singles Title

    The top-ranked Barty defeated an American, Danielle Collins, to become the first Australian to win the Grand Slam singles title there since 1978. “I’m so proud to be an Aussie,” she said.MELBOURNE, Australia — The 44-year drought was over in Ashleigh Barty’s sunburned country. Barty, often inscrutable on a tennis court, had just finished letting her guard down with a full-flex howl of delight that could almost be heard above the roars in Rod Laver Arena.Now, Barty, Australia’s first Australian Open singles champion since 1978, was motioning to someone on the other side of the deep blue expanse, beckoning with both hands and a relaxed smile.Casey Dellacqua emerged from the sidelines. They have been close for a decade — since Barty summoned the moxie at age 15 to ask her to play doubles — and it seemed appropriate on this fulfilling Saturday night that Dellacqua, now retired, be the first to embrace her.“She brought me into the sport again,” Barty said.Dellacqua supported Barty’s decision in September 2014 to leave the tennis tour. Barty, just 18, was depressed, lonely and desperate to live a more normal life than that provided by hotels and practice courts. And when Barty had spent more than a year away from the game, playing professional cricket and leaving the jet lag behind, it was Dellacqua who invited her out for a hit and helped her realize that she did indeed want to fully explore her prodigious tennis talent.Barty returned to the tour in 2016 with no ranking but full commitment, and Saturday’s 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over Danielle Collins of the United States was the latest proof that she made the right decision, for herself above all, but also for her sports-mad country.“She knows how proud I am of her,” Dellacqua said as she sat next to Barty on the set of Australia’s Channel Nine on Saturday. “Everybody thinks I have done a lot, but I cannot explain what Ash has done for me.”For a tennis nation like Australia, home to Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall and to grass courts in country towns and fancy clubs, it beggars belief that it would take 44 years to win any tournament, much less their own. But the drought was real in Australia, as homegrown champions like Patrick Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt and Samantha Stosur won major singles titles abroad but came up short in Melbourne.Barty, now 25, has solved the riddle — aced it actually — by not dropping a set in any of her seven matches at this year’s Australian Open.Born and raised in the steamy Australian state of Queensland, Barty has been ranked No. 1 for more than 100 weeks and has become a hugely popular figure in her home nation. Her matches during the Open this year have attracted large television audiences.But until now, her most significant triumphs also have come far from Australia. She won her first Grand Slam singles title in 2019 at the French Open and won Wimbledon last year when most Australians were unable to travel because of coronavirus restrictions.But she was able to organize a “Barty Party” at home this year, defeating the 27th-seeded Collins in prime time.After erasing two breaks of serve to rally from 1-5 deficit in the second set, she dominated the tiebreaker and finished off her victory with a forehand passing shot winner.After hugging Dellacqua, Barty was presented the winner’s trophy by another of her touchstones, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, a four-time Australian Open singles champion who, like Barty, is of Indigenous Australian heritage. The two women from different eras — Goolagong Cawley is 70 — have developed a deep connection, and Goolagong Cawley’s appearance on Saturday night was kept a surprise from Barty, who had not seen her in a year.“As an Aussie, the most important part of this tournament is being able to share it with so many people,” Barty said in her victory speech. “You guys today in the crowd have been nothing shy of exceptional. This crowd is one of the most fun I’ve ever played in front of and you guys brought me so much joy out here today. You relaxed me and you forced me to play my best tennis and against a champion like Danielle I know I had to absolutely bring that today.”In truth, it was not Barty’s best tennis: there were too many nervy shots, a first serve percentage of just 57 percent and even a missed backhand volley into an open court. But in light of the occasion and all that Aussie-Aussie-Aussie expectation, it was a stirring finish and it capped a dominant performance throughout the tournament.Barty’s final match wasn’t perfect, but it was stirring, and capped a dominant performance throughout the tournament.Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesBarty swept through the draw by controlled play with her precise and powerful first serve, crisply chipped backhand and versatile topspin forehand. She won 82 percent of her first serve points against Collins, an aggressive returner, working wonders repeatedly with her sliced serve in the deuce court and fighting through some shaky patches to find the angles and lines when she needed them most.Barty has not beaten a player ranked in the top 10 in any of her three Grand Slam singles victories. That is not her fault, of course, and there were seven other top 10 players in Melbourne this year.Collins will surely harbor some regrets about the second set. She was in firm command at one stage and seemed to be relaxing under duress while Barty was tightening, double faulting twice to go down 1-5. But though Collins was within two points of winning the set in three different games, she could not close the deal as the near-capacity crowd gave Barty nothing but positive reinforcement, meeting Collins’s errors with cheers and her winners with polite applause.Collins was unusually subdued early, though was soon pumping her fist and shouting her trademark “Come on!” But she said she has struggled with back pain during this deep run in Melbourne, which explains why she has been standing up on changeovers instead of taking a seat, and neither her body nor her nerve could sustain her in the second set.“She started to push me back in the court a little bit more. I think I was having some issues really being able to fully rotate on some of my shots to be able to get my shots to where I needed them to be,” Collins said. “It was really unfortunate, but did everything I could, tried to push through it, fell short.”Collins delivered an eloquent, moving speech, breaking into tears as she thanked her mentor, Marty Schneider, doing justice to the occasion and to Barty.Danielle Collins was within two points of winning the second set in three different games.Alana Holmberg for The New York Times“It’s been tremendous to watch her climb the rankings all the way to No. 1 and live out her dream,” Collins said.It was a road game for Collins, but she has played plenty of those in her long and challenging climb from the public parks of Florida to a Grand Slam final.Collins, 28, was a two-time N.C.A.A. singles champion at the University of Virginia and did not turn fully professional until she was 22, quite a contrast with Barty, who began her professional career at age 14.Collins will rise to No. 10 in the world rankings after her run and become the top-ranked American for the first time. But she could not stop Barty from giving Chris O’Neil company. O’Neil, the last Australian to win the Australian Open in singles was an unseeded player ranked outside the top 100 who never made another deep run at a major tournament after her victory in 1978.The crowd cheered as Barty howled after winning match point.Alana Holmberg for The New York TimesBarty has now solidified her spot as the world’s top-ranked player and has won her three Grand Slam singles titles on three different surfaces, red clay at the French Open, grass at Wimbledon and hardcourt in Melbourne. The only Grand Slam singles title she has yet to win is the U.S. Open, although she did win the women’s doubles title in New York in 2018 with her American partner, CoCo Vandeweghe.At 5-foot-5, Barty is not physically imposing in a sport increasingly populated by taller players like the 5-foot-10 Collins. But Barty is a complete threat, able to adjust her game on the fly and hit a particularly wide variety of shots.When she returned to tennis in February 2016, she did so with a new coach, Craig Tyzzer. They have formed quite a partnership and have worked to develop Barty’s game while preserving her mental health and enthusiasm.She did not compete on tour for most of 2020 because of coronavirus restrictions, and after her successful summer in 2021, she was weary and homesick and chose to return to Australia after losing in the third round of the U.S. Open instead of remaining overseas and competing in the WTA Finals in Mexico. Despite the similarity between the hardcourt surfaces used in Melbourne and New York, Tyzzer surprisingly said on Saturday that he does not think that Barty will win the U.S. Open unless the tournament makes a move to using heavier balls that are better suited to her game, which relies heavily on spin.But the decision to take a break certainly has paid off at the start of 2022. She is 11-0, winning the title in Adelaide and now, most significantly, seven matches at the Australian Open, giving Australians a much-needed lift after nearly two years of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions.“It can’t be easy playing with the weight of your country on your shoulders,” said Todd Woodbridge, the former Australian Open star, at the awards ceremony.But Barty’s shoulders were sturdy enough, and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup was soon glittering in her deft hands. More

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    Nick Kyrgios Aims for a Men's Doubles Title at the Australian Open

    Nick Kyrgios lost early in the Australian Open singles tournament, but that has not stopped him from grabbing the spotlight, as he so often does at his homeland Grand Slam.Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, his close friend and fellow Australian, received a wild-card entry into the doubles draw. They have triumphed through the competition using a mix of skill and showmanship that has turned their matches into raucous celebrations, the furthest thing from the often-sedate affairs usually associated with tennis.They have made their message clear to fans — drink up and make noise. To purists it is sacrilege: an improper, disrespectful display of toxic masculinity and style over substance, like all the between-the-leg half volleys and underhand serves Kyrgios employs. The moves are used both as weapons and to keep himself and the crowd entertained.Entertainment shouldn’t be a problem on Saturday, given the all-Australian men’s doubles final that features Kyrgios and Kokkinakis against compatriots Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell.To Kyrgios, the better the show, the better the tennis. And the louder and more uncomfortable the fans can make it for the opponents, the better a chance he has of prevailing.“Playing for them is more important than tennis success,” Kyrgios, who wears a basketball singlet during his matches, said of his supporters after he and Kokkinakis won their quarterfinal match. During that match, the network televising the Australian Open kept cutting away from Rafael Nadal’s five-set thriller over Denis Shapovalov to cover the Kyrgios-Kokkinakis show.“The level of entertainment is different,” Kyrgios said. With Kyrgios leading the men of Australian tennis, it always is.Kyrgios, right, and Kokkinakis during their quarterfinal win at the 2022 Australian Open last week.Kyrgios during his first-round win at the Open. Kyrgios has said that John Cain Arena is his favorite court to play at, and the tournament schedules many of his matches there.Young fans surrounded Kyrgios as he signed autographs after practice at the National Tennis Centre in Australia last week. While security tried to move him swiftly through the crowd, he paused to joke and take selfies with as many people as he could, and he signed until he was told to move on.Kyrgios greeted his girlfriend, Costeen Hatzi, after his semifinal win with Kokkinakis in men’s doubles.After his semifinals win, Kyrgios met his support team and family for dinner at the restaurant Nobu in Melbourne.Kyrgios and Kokkinakis defeated the top-seeded partners Nikola Mektić and Mate Pavić of Croatia in a straights upset on Day 5 of the Australian Open.Fans were overjoyed at Kyrgios’s first-round match. His opponent, the British qualifier Liam Broady, described the atmosphere as “incredible” in a post-match interview but also said he found the experience “absolutely awful’” after being taunted throughout the match as Kyrgios won, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3.Kyrgios, who is known to draw a younger and more vocal crowd to his matches, vented his frustration to the crowd after someone yelled out before his serve. He subsequently lost the point. More