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    Kader Nouni: The Umpire Known as the ‘Barry White of Tennis’

    Kader Nouni, called the “Barry White of tennis,” used to worry that his deep baritone distracted from the job, but now he’s comfortable in the umpire chair.Trailing 5-4 in the second set of her first-round match in this year’s U.S. Open, Venus Williams hit a forehand winner down the line to bring the game to 40-40. The chair umpire, Kader Nouni, let out a booming “deuce” that reverberated throughout Arthur Ashe Stadium.Some spectators snickered; others tried to imitate his deep, baritone voice.Nouni, who has been a part of the WTA for more than a decade, is used to the comments.When he was 16, Nouni called a girlfriend at her home and her father picked up the phone, he recalled during a recent interview at Bryant Park in Manhattan. The girl’s father handed the phone to his daughter, but the next day, Nouni’s girlfriend told him that her father didn’t believe they were the same age.“Because of your voice,” Nouni remembered her saying. “That’s how it all started.”These days, Nouni, a 46-year-old Frenchman, has become well known among those who follow tennis closely, and even casual fans are drawn to his resonant and melodic voice.Fabrice Chouquet, a senior vice president of competition and on-site operations for the WTA, said Nouni’s “unique style and booming voice have endeared him to players and fans alike.”Amanda Gaston, a tennis fan from Xenia, Ohio, attended a few matches under Nouni’s call in August at the nearby Western and Southern Open. She described Nouni as the “Barry White of tennis.”“When he’s in the chair, I immediately know it’s him,” Gaston said. “It’s a very distinctive, deep tone that you can immediately recognize.”Cliff Jenkins of Cincinnati said he and a friend try to imitate Nouni when he’s in the chair. “He’s got the velvet baritone voice — easy, effortless and full of richness,” Jenkins said.Such praise of his timbre used to worry Nouni — that he would be known more for his voice than his work, he said.“We always say that a good official is someone that we don’t talk about,” Nouni said. “I always wanted to be good and wanted people to speak more about being a good official.”These days, as a gold badge umpire, the highest level for tennis officials, Nouni feels he has proved himself in the business, and comments about his voice don’t bother him as much.“If they want to keep talking about my voice, I have no problem anymore with that,” he said.Several feet above the court in a lone chair, an umpire keeps score and enforces the rules of the game, but the job also extends to quieting boisterous crowds and regulating a player’s temperament on the court. That’s where a voice like Nouni’s is an effective tool in what he believes is one of the main keys to officiating — communication.“If you don’t know how to sell the call, it won’t help,” he said. “There’s always this pressure of input from the players. If they’re not happy with your calls, they’re going to get mad. If the crowd is unhappy with your calls, they’re going to get mad.”Before he was an umpire, Nouni’s first work in the sport was at a tennis club when he was 9 years old, doing such jobs as stringing rackets. Nouni and his brother wanted to play tennis, but lessons and court time were expensive for their mother, who raised them on her own in the southern French city of Perpignan after Nouni’s father died when he was 2.“It was not easy,” he said. “To be able to play tennis, we had to work.”When Nouni was 12, a tournament organizer was looking for officials for a local competition, and Nouni was asked if he wanted to work as an umpire for adult matches. He obliged, not realizing it would become his job for decades.“When you’re 12 years old and you have to deal with adults, and they have to listen to you, it’s kind of funny,” Nouni said.For a while, umpiring matches in local tournaments was just a summer job. But when Nouni was 16, he was invited to call matches at the national championship in Paris. The tournament was special for Nouni because he and the other teenage officials slept at the Roland Garros complex, and they were allowed to play on the clay courts when official matches weren’t taking place. For Nouni, who had lived with his family in public housing, staying at the home of the French Open was a remarkable experience.“We didn’t have much money,” Nouni said. “For me, being there at the French Open, even only for the summer, was fantastic.”Nouni’s performance during that tournament led to his selection as a line judge for the 1992 French Open. Since then, Nouni has been an umpire for dozens of Grand Slams and other tournaments around the world, including in the 2018 Wimbledon women’s singles final, where he was the chair umpire. Nouni has also been the chair umpire for five French Open women’s finals, in 2007, 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2021.Kader Nouni conducting the toss at the start of the women’s semifinal match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2015.Suzanne Plunkett/POOL/AFP via Getty ImagesWith so many memorable matches under his call, Nouni finds it difficult to single out one, but he always remembers his firsts — his first time in New York for the U.S. Open, his first time at the Olympics and his first time on Centre Court at Wimbledon.“Those moments are great,” Nouni said. “To be in the middle of the action, it’s priceless.”The job comes with downsides like being yelled at by players on occasion, often in high-profile matches, and especially in tournaments without the automated line calls of the U.S. Open. During a match at the 2012 Australian Open, David Nalbandian told Nouni to “shut up” after Nouni called a serve by John Isner as an ace, overruling the fault call from a line judge.“Let’s play,” Nouni said into the microphone, trying to regain control of the match.The match was delayed when Nalbandian called a tournament supervisor to the court. Nouni’s call stood, and after losing the match, Nalbandian told reporters that Nouni was not qualified to umpire.Nouni said tough calls can be difficult to let go, but he uses them as learning experiences.“You don’t think about it every day, but it’s somewhere, it’s part of you,” he said. “You don’t think about the best calls.”On the tour, Nouni usually calls two matches a day during the first week of a tournament, and he has other duties such as evaluating other umpires.“The first week is work, work, work, work,” Nouni said.But traveling around the world for the tour has given him the chance to see sights and explore. (A trip to Central Park and a Broadway show were on his to-do list while in New York.) The travel has also introduced him to people in many different cities.“I’ve been in the business for a while, so now I have my friends all around the world,” Nouni said.While the tour means a lot of travel days, Nouni said he does not plan to leave tennis soon.“You cannot do this job if you don’t like it,” Nouni said. “Impossible. You don’t survive. I think I will stop when I feel like it’s time to stop, and I’m not enjoying it anymore.”When that time comes, Nouni said jokingly, perhaps his voice would give him a shot at a different career.“Maybe Disney comes at me and asks me to do some voice-over for them.” More

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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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    Serena Williams: 23 Grand Slam Titles, in the Books

    The New York Times’s coverage of Williams’s 23 Grand Slam singles titles reflects more than two decades of greatness, and some surprises along the way.How long has Serena Williams been a champion? She won her first Grand Slam singles title in the 20th century.Williams was 17 when she won the 1999 U.S. Open. She had beads in her hair and, even at that early stage, plenty of sting in her strokes as she knocked out five past or future major champions, including the 18-year-old Martina Hingis in the final.“Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,” Williams said, her hand to her chest, looking as surprised as the rest of us.Williams has seldom been the underdog since, but surprises have continued to be her trademark.When she won the 2017 Australian Open, she was well aware that she was two months pregnant, but she kept the secret from all but her closest friends and family during the tournament and in the weeks that followed.Now, the trophy from that victory sits on a shelf in the bedroom of her daughter, Olympia, who will turn 5 in September.A strong argument can be made that that victory, which was Williams’s 23rd Grand Slam singles title, was as remarkable as her first, when she became the first African American woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win the U.S. Open.Seven of Williams’s other major singles victories have come against her older sister Venus, who was born just 15 months ahead of her.Williams, who said in Vogue this month that she plans to retire from tennis, is one championship shy of Margaret Court’s career record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. Williams is set to compete again in this year’s U.S. Open, which could be her last chance to tie Court’s record.“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want that record,” Williams told the magazine. “Obviously I do. But day to day, I’m really not thinking about her.”Here are excerpts from The New York Times’s coverage of Williams’s 23 Grand Slam titles.1999 U.S. OPENDefeated Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-6Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesUsing her racket like a stun gun to pound and paralyze her savvy opponent, the No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis, into submission, Serena Williams, the 17-year-old follow-up act to her big sister phenom, Venus, captured the women’s championship at the United States Open in her first appearance in a Grand Slam final.“Oh, my God, I won, oh my God,” the jubilant Williams mouthed, clasping both hands to her thumping heart, after Hingis motored a double-handed backhand out of bounds on Williams’s third match point. That sealed a 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) upset for the youngest of the five Williams sisters, the one who calls herself the family extrovert. — Robin FinnRead the full article2002 French OpenDefeated Venus Williams, 7-5, 6-3Phil Cole/Getty ImagesOf the two, Serena Williams was always the one without a gatekeeper on her emotions when placed in the awkward position of playing her older sister.It was hard to forget: Venus was the one she always leaned on as a child; the one who gave up her milk money when Serena lost hers; the one with the stoic veneer of a bodyguard.Today, the Williams sisters reversed roles. Serena held on, while Venus came undone. Once the last unsteady backhand by Venus plunged into the net on the 15th stroke of match point, Serena bent over in pure relief, winning the French Open, 7-5, 6-3, and taking her first major title since the 1999 United States Open. — Selena RobertsRead the full article2002 WimbledonDefeated Venus Williams, 7-6(4), 6-3Serena Williams would punch a forehand into the deepest corner of the court, at angled degrees of difficulty that defied the condor wingspan of her older sister Venus.At times, she would throw a fist, growl or scream to punctuate her winner. At times, Venus would wince, drop her head or coax herself to try harder with an audible “Come on!”Unveiling their emotions, playing with the ferocity normally reserved only for others, Venus and Serena discarded their sibling code of conduct during Wimbledon final.They played each other, no mental baggage attached. Once Serena tucked away her first Wimbledon title, 7-6 (4), 6-3, throwing down a 103-mile-an-hour serve that was too twisting for Venus to return, they greeted each other at the net like ordinary rivals.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.A pat on the back, a kind word, and then Serena was off, waving toward the crowd with a smile as wide as the English Channel, finishing off a day when two African-Americans played in a Wimbledon final for the first time.Venus was happy for her little sister, but not the way she was at the French Open, which was won by Serena last month, when Venus snapped pictures with the photographers. Much more subdued, almost moribund, Venus may have been coming to grips with the fact that, at this moment, her little sister is the more dangerous of the two. — Selena RobertsRead the full article2002 U.S. OpenDefeated Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-3Vincent Laforet/The New York TimesIn the beginning, Venus Williams handed down the secret formula to her little sister, Serena, provided all the answers in the back of the book, but last night the one who took on tennis first left the court worn down from a season of disheartening discovery: the copy has become better than the original.Although visibly drained, Venus Williams is not the type to expose her emotions in an Oprah-style catharsis. So, she forced a smile afterSerena Williams picked her apart during a 6-4, 6-3 victory for the United States Open championship; and Venus patted her younger sister on the shoulder after Serena’s third major championship in a row, each at Venus’s expense. — Selena RobertsRead the full article2003 Australian OpenDefeated Venus Williams, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4Mark Dadswell/Getty ImagesLess than a year ago, after she had to withdraw from the Australian Open with a sprained ankle, she was still trying to catch up with her big sister. But in a breathtaking, fist-pumping, title-gobbling hurry, Serena Williams has become one of the greats.She confirmed it at Rod Laver Arena, maintaining her edge over her older sibling Venus by a much slimmer margin than usual to win this year’s Australian Open, 7-6 (4), 3-6, 6-4, and become only the fifth woman to hold all four Grand Slam singles titles at once.“It’s really special to have come such a long way,” she said.It was not quite a true Grand Slam, which requires winning the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the United States Open in the same calendar year. That feat was achieved by Maureen Connolly in 1953, Margaret Court in 1970 and Steffi Graf in 1988. Instead, Serena has chosen to dub her run the Serena Slam, an allusion to Tiger Woods’s similar achievement in golf. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2003 WimbledonDefeated Venus Williams, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2Once again, Serena Williams won a Grand Slam singles title with mixed emotions.In ordinary circumstances, defending a Wimbledon title would be, at the least, cause for a whoop of delight and the broadest of grins, but there is nothing ordinary about the story of the Williams sisters. When the latest, plot-enriching chapter came to a close with Venus Williams’s forehand return flying wide, Serena’s reaction was muted as she jogged to the net.It might be getting easier for Serena to play her older sister, but it is still not nearly the same as matching huge ground strokes and healthy egos with an outsider. Playing Venus when she was injured only added a layer of complexity.“I just had to tell myself to look at the ball and nothing else,” Serena told the crowd on Center Court after a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory gave her a sixth Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2005 Australian OpenDefeated Lindsay Davenport, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0Nick Laham/Getty ImagesThere were no match points to be saved, no steady accumulation of suspense, no gravity-defying series of leaps when victory was secure.But it was a surprising turnabout just the same, and though Williams was walking and serving gingerly in the early stages of this Australian Open final, she was soon swinging freely and watching Lindsay Davenport’s errant groundstrokes and second serves fly by at a great, anticlimactic rate.Midway through the lopsided third set, it appeared obvious to everyone under the closed roof in Rod Laver Arena, including Davenport, that Williams was on her way to her second Australian Open title and seventh Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2007 Australian OpenDefeated Maria Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2It has been two weeks of turning back the clock for Serena Williams, and under a closed roof during the Australian Open women’s final Saturday, she completed her astoundingly quick trip back to dominance against the top-seeded Maria Sharapova.Under the lights, she was the relentless Williams of yore: crushing returns and first serves, casting ominous glances across the net and showing not the slightest hint of vulnerability as she raced to a 6-1, 6-2 victory.The rout, which required just one hour and three minutes, capped one of the most remarkable comebacks in tennis history, and it came against the young, confident woman who will regain the No. 1 ranking on Monday.But there could be no doubt about who was No. 1 Saturday, as Williams applied enormous pressure from the start and methodically extracted all the suspense to win her eighth Grand Slam singles title and third Australian Open title. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2008 U.S. OpenDefeated Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 7-5Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesNo world No. 1 in women’s tennis has slogged through so desolate a valley between peaks than Serena Williams. After relinquishing the top spot in August 2003, Williams fell so far that she wasn’t within echoing distance of the summit two years ago.Outside the top 125 at this time in 2006, Williams completed her climb back to No. 1 Sunday night with a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Jelena Jankovic to claim her third United States Open title. — Karen CrouseRead the full article2009 Australian OpenDefeated Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3The women’s final had finished in less than an hour, and Serena Williams was walking down the hall in Melbourne Park lined with photos of past Australian Open champions, including herself.In her arms, held tightly to her chest, was the large Daphne Akhurst Trophy that goes to the women’s champion.“It’s mine again,” Williams said in a lilting voice.Williams got no argument from Dinara Safina on Saturday night. After two weeks of uncertainty about the true state of Williams’s form, suddenly there was nothing but brutal clarity. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2009 WimbledonDefeated Venus Williams, 7-6 (3), 6-2Hamish Blair/Getty ImagesWimbledon has long been the Williams sisters’ territory, but it was Venus, not Serena, who had the biggest stake in the place. It was Venus who had won five singles titles, including the last two. It was Venus who had won 20 straight singles matches and 34 straight sets.Despite few hints of regime change in the early rounds, this did not turn out to be her year. Instead, it was younger sister Serena’s turn to keep the Wimbledon inscribers busy. She broke open this often-edgy final midway through the second set and then secured her third Wimbledon singles title by breaking Venus’s serve in a tight final game to win. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2010 Australian OpenDefeated Justine Henin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2As Serena Williams collapsed on the court, weary and elated after capturing her fifth Australian Open title, those who follow tennis, or perhaps sports of any kind, knew they had witnessed the performance of a great champion. She had turned back a pretty good champion in Justine Henin for a hard-fought victory.Williams, 28, fought through pain to earn it — her right thigh and left knee and wrist were wrapped, as they have been for the past two weeks. And her grimaces and hobbled steps as she battled Henin further betrayed her distress.Williams’s ability to endure is one of her vital intangibles, as is her ardor for the competitive part of the game. — Joe DrapeRead the full article2010 WimbledonDefeated Vera Zvonareva, 6-3, 6-2Alastair Grant/Associated PressAt the end of the Wimbledon women’s singles final, Serena Williams turned toward her family in the stands. She flashed 10 fingers, then 3 fingers, for a total of 13 — her updated tally of Grand Slam singles titles.With her demolition of Vera Zvonareva, Williams accumulated another avalanche of aces, hoisted another trophy and took another step forward among tennis’s greats. Afterward, she confirmed what once seemed obvious, another otherworldly performance notwithstanding.“I’m totally human,” Williams said.The latest trophy marked her fourth Wimbledon singles title and allowed her to pass Billie Jean King for sixth place on the women’s career major singles championships list. In an on-court interview, her smile as wide as the English Channel, Williams said, “Hey, Billie, I got you.” — Greg BishopRead the full article2012 WimbledonDefeated Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2For Serena Williams, the tears came slowly, a release of all the emotions that had accumulated over the last two weeks, the last two months, the last two years.There was the euphoria of winning her fifth singles title at Wimbledon, tying her older sister Venus, and her 14th in a Grand Slam tournament. The satisfaction of purging a shocking French Open implosion and the aura of vulnerability that followed. The relief that comes with reviving a career on the brink, from cheating death, from outlasting a patient and persistent adversary who threatened with a comeback nearly as stirring as Williams’s.Her appreciation of these moments is greater than it was 13 years ago, when at age 17 she announced her presence at the 1999 United States Open. There is an element of selflessness, of humility, that comes, perhaps, with age and maturity. Now 30, Williams is the first woman in her 30s to capture a Grand Slam since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33.“Oh my God, I can’t even describe it,” Williams said during an on-court interview on a blustery and chilly Centre Court. — Ben ShpigelRead the full article2012 U.S. OpenDefeated Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesAfter a set, a fourth United States Open title for Serena Williams looked like a foregone conclusion as she ripped serves and ground strokes at Arthur Ashe with the same intimidating blend of power and precision that has defined her summer.Who could have imagined then that by the end of this evening, victory would come as a surprise, leaving Williams with her eyes wide and her hands to her head?“I was preparing my runners-up speech,” Williams said.She would have been obliged to deliver it if the world’s No. 1-ranked player, Victoria Azarenka, had seized her opportunity when serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. Although Azarenka had done an often-admirable job of coping with Williams’s first-strike pressure in this big-swinging final, she could not quite handle the chance to win her first United States Open.Williams, whose form and body language had fluctuated wildly after the opening set, would not lose her way again, putting an exclamation point on the feel-good story of her summer of tennis by closing out a victory that will rank among her most memorable. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2013 French OpenDefeated Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 6-4Kenzo Triboulliard/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesSerena Williams has tried to master French, as she has finally mastered the French Open again. So after she had served five aces in her last seven service points to beat Maria Sharapova, and had gone down on her knees and put her head to the clay in celebration, Williams kept up her recent habit of making her postmatch remarks to the crowd in the local language.“I’m incredible,” she said in French.That is probably not what she meant to say. But for accuracy, if not for her command of a second language, it is hard to argue with the sentiment. And it is now possible to make the case that she has a chance to become the greatest women’s player in tennis history.Williams seized one of the few achievements that had eluded her — a second French Open, to match the one she won in 2002, a tennis lifetime ago. At 31, she has won 16 Grand Slam singles events, and appears nowhere near finished. — Judy BattistaRead the full article2013 U.S. OpenDefeated Victoria Azarenka, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1As it turned out, after 2 hours 45 minutes of raw emotion and territorial tennis, Serena Williams really could play in the wind, just as she has played and prevailed in so many conditions and circumstances through the years.With her 32nd birthday approaching, Williams is in increasingly rare company as the major titles continue to pile up. Although she certainly wobbled in Sunday’s United States Open final — the longest recorded women’s Open final — and although Victoria Azarenka applied plenty of intense, next-generation pressure, there was ultimately no depriving Williams of another major celebration on a court where she has experienced plenty of disaster to go with her triumphs through the years.A less resilient champion might have continued to fall apart after collapsing in the second set. Instead, Williams exhaled and willed herself into a more peaceful and less conflicted place: one where neither Azarenka nor the wind, that cursed wind, could knock her down. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2014 U.S. OpenDefeated Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-3Michelle V. Agins/The New York TimesSerena Williams was asked what the number 18 meant to her.“It means legal to do some things,” she said, laughing.But she knew what the reporter was getting at.“It also means legendary,” she added more seriously.She would not go so far as to call herself legendary — “I’m just Serena,” she said — but she joined some elite company Sunday, when she tied Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with her 18th Grand Slam singles title.Williams had not advanced past the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament this year, and over the last two weeks she had expressed relief and excitement at her success at the U.S. Open. When Wozniacki’s final stroke went long, Williams collapsed on her back and started to cry. In a postmatch interview, she choked up saying the word 18. — Naila-Jean MeyersRead the full article2015 Australian OpenDefeated Maria Sharapova, 6-3, 7-6 (5)The record still shows that Maria Sharapova is a pushover for Serena Williams: her muse, her matchup made in tennis heaven.Williams’s victory in the Australian Open final extended her winning streak against Sharapova to 16 matches, despite all the velocity and volume that Sharapova has mustered over the last decade.Forget head-to-head. This is off with her head.Yet Williams, who said she had a severe cold for much of this tournament, encountered some headwinds. She left the court during a rain delay in the first set and, for the first time in her nearly 20 years as a professional, threw up during a match. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2015 French OpenDefeated Lucie Safarova, 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesSerena Williams was too ill to get out of bed for most of Friday. She was too tightly wound to close out what would have been a routine straight-set victory against Lucie Safarova on Saturday.But as Williams’s increasingly remarkable tennis career has made clear, she is never more dangerous than when cornered.This obstacle course of a French Open provided reminders in nearly every round as Williams hit, shrieked, swore and coughed her way through all kinds of trouble, including five three-set matches and a nasty case of the flu.Saturday’s 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 victory over Safarova was a fitting finale to what might have been Williams’s most challenging run to a Grand Slam singles title. — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2015 WimbledonDefeated Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-4, 6-4Three years had passed since the Wimbledon champion’s trophy was last in her possession, so Serena Williams had some fun with it.She held it high on Centre Court with both strong arms (classic). She balanced it on her head like a book in a 1950s charm school and walked with it (unconventional). At one stage, she even playfully declined to hand it back to a Wimbledon official (understandable).“At the beginning of the year, this is the one I really wanted to win,” Williams said. “So that was the first thing and the main thing on my mind.” — Christopher ClareyRead the full article2016 WimbledonDefeated Angelique Kerber, 7-5, 6-3Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesOn the first point of the women’s final at Wimbledon, Angelique Kerber ended a rally with a forehand winner down the line.On the next, a Serena Williams backhand winner scorched the baseline.Yes, it was going to be one of those matches. But in contrast with the outcome of their duel in the Australian Open final in January, Williams came out as the winner.Williams tied Steffi Graf’s Open-era record for Grand Slam singles titles, gaining her 22nd. The win left her two short of Margaret Court’s overall record of 24 Grand Slam titles from 1960 to 1973.Williams, 34, had not won a major championship since last year’s Wimbledon, losing in the semifinals at the 2015 United States Open and the finals at the Australian and French Opens this year.Although she had tried to play down the importance of No. 22, she acknowledged that it was a “relief” to get there, and that there had been “some sleepless nights” after her recent Grand Slam losses. — Naila-Jean MeyersRead the full article2017 Australian OpenDefeated Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-4Michael Dodge/Getty ImagesThe tennis circuit can be an echo chamber where the same questions and themes reverberate from week to week as the locations change, but the protagonists do not.So even if Serena Williams refused to entertain questions during the tournament about the possibility of winning her 23rd Grand Slam singles title and breaking her tie for the Open-era record with Steffi Graf, there was no dodging that number in her own head.Now, after her 6-4, 6-4 victory over her sister, she can celebrate No. 23 instead of fret over it.“I’ve been chasing it for a really long time,” Williams said. “When it got on my radar, I knew I had an opportunity to get there, and I’m here. It’s a great feeling. No better place to do it than Melbourne.” — Christopher ClareyRead the full article More

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    When One Tennis Major Title Is All There Is

    After that first title, players are pestered with the question, when’s No. 2? Often, there is no next time.Thomas Johansson isn’t exactly sure where his Australian Open award is. He knows that the miniature replica of the trophy that he received for winning the title in 2002 is in his mother’s apartment near Stockholm, likely in a corner somewhere. Johansson and his family live in Monaco.That doesn’t mean that the title, and the trophy, aren’t important. For Johansson, now 47, winning the Australian championship was the crowning achievement in a 15-year pro career that saw him reach No. 7 in the world before retiring in 2009. He had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals at a major when he beat Marat Safin, the former world No. 1 and the 2000 United States Open champion. “I’m quite humble, but also super proud that I won this title,” said Johansson by phone earlier this month. “To win a Slam you have to be strong, play extremely well for two weeks and even get a little lucky. Maybe I never won another one, but that’s OK, I’ll always have this one.”Daniil Medvedev won his first major title last year by defeating Novak Djokovic in the finals of the U.S. Open.Ben Solomon for The New York TimesFor every Serena Williams, who holds 23 majors, and Rafael Nadal, who has won 22, there are dozens of players who captured their maiden Grand Slam title and no more.When Emma Raducanu and Daniil Medvedev step on court for their opening-round matches at this year’s U.S. Open, they will both be defending their first major wins. Last year Raducanu, ranked No. 150 at the time, stunned the sport by becoming the first qualifier to win the Open.Medvedev prevented Novak Djokovic from claiming the sport’s ultimate achievement, the Grand Slam — victories at the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. championships in the same calendar year — by upsetting him in the final. Raducanu and Medvedev will both be attempting to win their second major this year.Some players, like Marcelo Rios, Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina and Karolina Pliskova, attained the No. 1 ranking without ever having won a major. Caroline Wozniacki was No. 1 for months starting in October 2010, although she won just one major, the Australian Open in 2018.“People don’t realize how hard it is to win a Slam,” said Martina Hingis, 41, who captured three Australian championships, one Wimbledon and one U.S. Open, all before she turned 19 years old. “But it was a different time. Whoever was on a roll, having a good year, was more confident and won the Slams. I don’t think it would be possible back in the day for a player from the qualifying to win the U.S. Open.”There is probably no more dreaded moniker in tennis than One-Slam Wonder. Almost immediately after players win an important title, they are asked, “What’s next?” It happened to the former No. 1 Andy Roddick after he won the 2003 U.S. Open, even though Roddick reached four other finals, including the 2006 U.S. Open and three Wimbledons, losing all four to Roger Federer.It also happened to Dominic Thiem when he beat Alexander Zverev to win the 2020 U.S. Open and to Gabriela Sabatini when she beat Steffi Graf at the 1990 U.S. Open. Sabatini, a star on tour for most of the 1980s, won two WTA Finals, but never another major. Neither did Pat Cash, who won Wimbledon in 1987 and started the tradition of players climbing into the stands after winning the tournament. Yannick Noah once threatened to jump into the Seine because of the pressure he felt after becoming the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the French Open in 1983.“You always want to back up any big win,” said Mike Bryan who, together with his twin brother, Bob, won 16 major doubles titles. “When we won our first French Open [in 2003], we didn’t win another Slam for more than two years. At every press conference it was, ‘When are you going to do it again?’ There’s just this voice in your head that you always have, until you win the next one.”Thomas Johansson won his first, and only, major title at the 2002 Australian Open.Adam Pretty /Allsport, via Getty ImagesSome players win their first Grand Slam title at a young age and never repeat. Michael Chang was 17 years old when he stunned Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg to win the French Open in 1989. He never won another major. The same is true for Jelena Ostapenko, who won the 2017 French Open just after her 20th birthday. Sofia Kenin won the Australian Open at age 21 in 2020, and reached the final of the French Open later that year, but is now ranked outside the world’s top 200, in part because of an injury-laden year.Jana Novotna, on the other hand, was nearly 30 when she finally won Wimbledon in 1998, five years after her final-round collapse against Graf. Francesca Schiavone was also almost 30 when she beat Samantha Stosur (herself a lone major winner at the 2011 U.S. Open) to capture the 2010 French Open. And Flavia Pennetta was 33 when she won her only major at the 2015 U.S. Open. As she collected her trophy, Pennetta announced her retirement from the sport.“The moment you win, everything you have worked on for years and years has come true,” said Schiavone, 42, as she prepared to play the legends event at Wimbledon last month. “Your heart is full because your dream came true. You are not anymore an outsider. Now you are a major champ. But then you have to empty your heart and put a new dream in there. It’s not easy, but you have to fly again with constant work.”Mary Pierce remembers feeling overwhelmed when she won the Australian Open in 1995, the year after she lost in the French Open final to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.“You’re on such a high, and it gives you the confidence to feel like you’re one of the best in the game,” said Pierce, who backed up her victory by winning the French Open five years later. “It’s your goal, so you want to do it again.”Pierce understands what it will be like for Raducanu and Medvedev when they return to this year’s U.S. Open.“Winning your first Grand Slam completely changes your life,” Pierce said. “It’s now commercials and photo shoots and TV shows and events that you weren’t doing before and are now taking your time and energy away from training and resting. It can also be emotionally draining, and you need that energy and that focus and concentration to compete.“Plus, now everybody’s recognizing you wherever you go, watching everything you do, and you’re not used to that, so you have to adapt. Just feeling the expectations and pressure with everyone expecting you to play well and to win every time, which is not humanly possible. We’re not machines, we’re not robots.”Backing up a major championship by winning another may be paramount to a player’s psyche. Some players need that career validation. Others don’t.“I think One-Slam Wonder is one of the stupidest words in tennis,” said Johansson, who also won a silver medal in men’s doubles from the 2008 Beijing Olympics. “Winning one Grand Slam title is incredibly hard to do, unless of course you’re a Roger, Rafa or Novak because they’re so good. I’d prefer to have won one Slam than to have been in the finals three times.” 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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    How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Tied Set?

    On a trial basis, the four major tennis tournaments will begin playing their matches under the same regulations.Nick Kyrgios knew he could be a top tennis player when he won his first main draw match at the French Open in 2013.“It was memorable because I beat Radek Stepanek in three tiebreakers,” said Kyrgios, who has twice reached major quarterfinals and been ranked as high as No. 13 in the world. “To have them all go my way, that’s when I fell in love with tiebreakers. I think they’re pretty special.”When the French Open begins on Sunday, the tournament will feature yet another new tiebreaker rule that will, for the first time, see the four major championships — Wimbledon, and the French, United States and Australian Opens — using the same tiebreaker policies.When a match reaches 6-6 in the final set, which is the fifth set for men’s singles and the third for women’s singles, the players will contest a super-tiebreaker. The first player to win 10 points by a 2-point margin will win the set and the match. The rule change is being used as a trial in the three majors this year and in next year’s Australian Open.“Our challenge is to protect the soul of [the French Open ] while entering a new era,” said Amélie Mauresmo, the tournament’s new director and a former world No. 1. “We’re trying to modernize things on a daily basis.”A 2010 first-round Wimbledon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days, finally concluding when Isner took a 70-68 fifth-set win. Pool photo by Suzanne PlunkettTiebreakers, or tiebreaks, as they have inexplicably been renamed by many in the sport, were introduced at the 1970 U.S. Open as a way of shortening matches and holding the attention of spectators and television audiences, as well as preserving the health and well-being of players.Back then, tiebreakers — first a 9-point “sudden death” version that ended when a player won 5 points, which was later changed to a “lingering death” alternative that required a player to win 7 points by a margin of 2 — were played in all sets except the final one. Final sets required that play continue until someone won by a two-game margin.The four tournaments that comprise the Grand Slam could never agree on a format for the deciding set, so each event made its own rules. Beginning in 2016, the Australian Open introduced a super-tiebreaker at 6-6, while Wimbledon began playing a traditional tiebreaker at 12-12 in 2019. The rule was immediately put to the test that year when Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 13-12 (7-3) for the men’s title.Wimbledon was under pressure to make the change after two defining matches. The first was a 2010 first-round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut that lasted 11 hours and five minutes over three days, finally concluding when Isner took a 70-68 fifth-set win. Then, in 2018, Isner and Kevin Anderson played a six-hour, 36-minute semifinal that Anderson ultimately won, but that left him so depleted that he lost the final in straight sets to Djokovic.The U.S. Open has been contesting a 12-point tiebreaker (the first to 7 points wins) in all sets since 1975. During that time, only one men’s final has featured a tiebreaker in the final set: In 2020, Dominic Thiem came back from two sets down to beat Alexander Zverev 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) in a made-for-television match in which no fans were allowed in the stands because of the coronavirus pandemic.“I love tiebreakers,” said Hana Mandlikova, 60, who vividly recalled every point of the final tiebreaker against Martina Navratilova at the 1985 U.S. Open. “You have to be risky, and you have to be a little bit lucky.”Bettmann/Getty ImagesTwo women’s finals have gone the distance. Tracy Austin defeated Martina Navratilova 1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-1) in 1981 and Hana Mandlikova upset Navratilova 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 7-6 (7-2) in 1985.“I love tiebreakers,” said Mandlikova, 60, who vividly recalled every point of the final tiebreaker against Navratilova, including a diving cross-court backhand volley on match point. “People who play riskier tennis instead of staying along the baseline have a better percentage of winning the tiebreaker,” she continued. “You have to be risky, and you have to be a little bit lucky.”Kyrgios, who beat Stepanek 7-6, (7-4), 7-6 (10-8), 7-6 (13-11) in that 2013 French Open first-rounder, said a tiebreaker was not based on skill. “It obviously favors the bigger serve at times, but it can go either way,” he said. “That’s the beauty of the scoring in tennis. Every point counts.”Until this year, the French Open shunned the final-set tiebreaker. Since the tournament began in 1891, it has featured very few extended final sets, though the slow red clay and never-ending rallies have produced multiple five-hour matches. Only twice in the men’s draw has a final gone the distance: a 1927 match won by René Lacoste over Bill Tilden 11-9 in the fifth set and a 2004 final between Gastón Gaudio and Guillermo Coria, which Gaudio ultimately won 8-6 in the fifth.Jennifer Capriati’s win over Kim Clijsters in the final set of the 2001 French Open was one of the tournament’s most suspenseful endings.Philippe Wojazer/ReutersThe women, on the other hand, have produced some extraordinary final sets in the French Open, including an 8-6 third-set win by Steffi Graf over Navratilova in 1987, a 10-8 third-set win by Monica Seles over Graf in 1992, a 10-8 third-set win by Graf over Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in 1996 and one of the tournament’s all-time highlights, a 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 victory by Jennifer Capriati over Kim Clijsters in the 2001 final.Danielle Collins, one of the top-ranked U.S. pros, remembers honing her tiebreaker skills while competing in junior matches.“If you split sets, you played a 10-point tiebreaker for the third set,” Collins said. “I would get down all the time. One time I was down 9-1 and came back to win. Those 10-point tiebreakers can be really fun.” Stefanos Tsitsipas likes the idea of never-ending matches but understands the need for final-set tiebreakers in today’s increasingly physical matches.“As a kid I liked watching these crazy best-of-five matches that went all the way to 18-16,” he said. “It was just fun to watch and see who was going to break first. On the other hand, you can’t allow players to play until 6 in the morning with that format. It can get quite exhausting.”In the 2020 U.S. Open, Dominic Thiem, of Austria, came back from two sets down to beat Alexander Zverev, of Germany.Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesStan Wawrinka, who won the French Open in 2015, would prefer that the majors stop tinkering with their tiebreaker formulas.“What I liked before was that they were all a different ending,” said Wawrinka, who is working his way back from knee surgery. “I enjoyed that. But it’s impossible to find one thing that everybody will like. To all be the same now is not my favorite thing, but it is what it is and we don’t have a choice.”Djokovic is proud that he and Federer got to play the first championship match in Wimbledon history to feature a final-set tiebreaker. He also knows it was a one-and-only now that Wimbledon will also play final-set tiebreakers at 6-6 instead of 12-12.“There is history in extended play in most of the Slams,” Djokovic said. “That Isner-Mahut, the longest match ever, it’s written down with golden letters in the history of tennis. Many people remember that match, and it has brought a lot of attention to our sport from the wider audience.” More

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    Despite the Trend in Sports, Don’t Expect Ashleigh Barty to Un-Retire

    When the world’s top women’s tennis player won the Australian Open in January, it became her crowning achievement. Her stunning retirement is a loss to tennis.Tennis, with all its aging and ailing superstars, has been bracing for big farewells for years. But players like Roger Federer, Serena and Venus Williams and Andy Murray have defied the timeline and the expectations, pressing on and rejecting retirement through competitiveness, stubbornness, and a love of the game and the platform.Which is why Wednesday came as such a surprise.Ashleigh Barty, by these new-age standards, was just getting started. At 25, she was ranked No. 1 with three Grand Slam singles titles in the bank, including Wimbledon last year and the Australian Open in January. Already an icon at home, she had the beautiful game and winning personality to one day become a global brand as the majors and seasons piled up.But Barty was on her own timeline, and, after long and careful consideration, she is retiring on top, the very top, which might sound neat and tidy but actually requires the self-awareness and the guts to leave quite a few things unfinished.If Barty remains retired, she will never win a U.S. Open singles title, never win the Billie Jean King Cup team event for Australia, never win an Olympic gold medal, never, with her complete set of tennis tools, achieve the calendar-year Grand Slam that her Australian predecessors Rod Laver and Margaret Court won more than 50 years ago.Barty warmed up on court P4 at the start of the fifth day of the 2019 U.S. Open.Karsten Moran for The New York TimesBut there is more to a champion’s life than a checklist, and, as Federer and his enduring peer group would surely confirm, it is only worth making the trek to such low-oxygen destinations if you genuinely enjoy the journey.Barty, a teen prodigy who won the Wimbledon girls title at age 15, has long seemed like someone whose gift took her farther than she wanted to go.“I’m shocked and not shocked,” Rennae Stubbs, an Australian player, coach and ESPN analyst, said of Barty’s retirement. “Ash is not an ego-driven person wanting more. She’s happy and now comfortable and never has to leave her town and family again. And she’s content with her achievements now.”The journeys, it is true, are longer for Australians, and they had been isolated under some of the strictest lockdowns and quarantine rules in the world during the pandemic.Barty spent all of 2020 in Australia, opting to remain home in Brisbane rather than travel abroad to compete when tournaments resumed after a forced hiatus. She left the country for several months in 2021, cementing her No. 1 status by winning four titles, including Wimbledon. But after losing early in the U.S. Open, Barty, emotionally drained, returned to Australia and skipped the rest of the season.That might have been a hint that early retirement was a possibility; that balance and personal well-being were Barty’s priorities, all the more so with her financial future secure. But then came her return to competition in January, when she ended Australia’s 44-year-drought by winning the Australian Open singles title — without dropping a single set. After her forehand passing shot winner against the American Danielle Collins, she howled with delight.Barty supporters cheered as they watched her defeat Alison Riske during the 2020 Australian Open.Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York TimesPerhaps, in retrospect, it was a scream of relief. What looked like her latest achievement turned out to be her crowning one. She did not pick up a racket again, even to practice, after winning the title in Melbourne. She pulled out of the prestigious hardcourt events in Indian Wells and Miami, and then retired on Wednesday, delivering the news in a prearranged conversation with her friend and former doubles partner Casey Dellacqua that was released on social media.“I don’t think Ash has ever been part of a current,” said Micky Lawler, the president of the Women’s Tennis Association, who spoke with Barty on Tuesday before her announcement. “This is not a new trend for her. I think she has always been very determined and very clear on where she stood and where tennis stood in her life.”That clarity has been hard-earned. Barty has matured and learned a great deal about herself through therapy and life experience since she stepped away from the tour and its pressures for the first time at age 17, depressed and homesick. Sports comebacks remain all the rage, as Tom Brady continues to make clear. Tennis stars of the past who retired early — see Justine Henin and Bjorn Borg — did eventually return to competition, however briefly. But the feeling in tennis circles is that another Barty comeback is against the odds.“I would guess that this is her final decision,” Lawler said. She added, “There would be a much bigger chance of her coming back if she lived in the States or in Europe. The fact she’s in Australia and loves Australia and loves being home, I think that plays a big role in how she decided this and when she decided this, and that will make a comeback that much harder.”Barty in action against Sofia Kenin in their semifinal singles match at the 2020 Australian Open.Asanka Brendon Ratnayake for The New York TimesLawler said that, in their conversation, Barty also made it clear that she did not want to continue placing travel demands on Craig Tyzzer, her veteran Australian coach.Lawler said she expects Barty to request to be removed from the rankings, likely before the end of the Miami Open, which concludes April 3. No. 2 Iga Swiatek of Poland could become No. 1 by winning her opening match in Miami, but if she loses, No. 6 Paula Badosa of Spain could also become No. 1 by winning the title.Though Swiatek, 20, and Badosa, 24, have powerful games and charisma, Barty’s departure leaves a void. Stylistically, her flowing, varied game was a refreshing change from the big-bang approach that has long prevailed. Barty, though she stood only 5-foot-5, had plenty of power and one of the most dominant serves — and forehands — in the game. But her success was also based on changes of pace, spin and tactics. She could hit over her backhand with two hands, or slice it with one hand and tremendous control, depth and bite.Her full package often bamboozled more one-dimensional opponents. Other young players possess similar variety, including Russia’s Daria Kasatkina and Canada’s Bianca Andreescu, who won the 2019 U.S. Open. But Barty was the most consistent and irresistible exemplar of variety. She was 3-0 in Grand Slam singles finals, although it bears remembering that she never faced a player ranked in the top 10 in any of the Grand Slam tournaments she won.Barty celebrated after she won her first Wimbledon title in 2021.Pool photo by Ben QueenboroughThat was no fault of her own, but her early departure will again make it challenging for the WTA to create what it has lacked for most of the last 20 years: the enduring, transcendent rivalries that have been the hallmarks of the men’s game in the age of Novak Djokovic, Federer and Rafael Nadal.Serena Williams, the greatest women’s player of this era, is 40 and has not played since injuring herself in the first round of Wimbledon last year. She may not play again. Naomi Osaka, her heir apparent in terms of global profile and commercial portfolio, has struggled with her mental health and is now ranked 77th. Emma Raducanu, the talented British teen who was a surprise U.S. Open champion last year, is a sponsor magnet but not yet ready to soar to the top.Perhaps Barty will take on other sporting challenges. During her first hiatus from tennis, she showed her potential to be a world-class cricketer, and she is an excellent golfer who is engaged to Garry Kissick, a professional golfer from Australia. Other women’s tennis stars have switched to professional golf, including Althea Gibson, but that move sounds unlikely given the global travel that sport also demands.The WTA clearly knows how to crown champions and do business without Barty. Despite finishing the season at No. 1 the last three years, she has not been a dominant presence there amid her long breaks from the sport. But however well-considered her departure, it is still sad for tennis that she did not want to carry the torch forward.Her character and game would have worn particularly well. More

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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