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    Taylor Fritz Defeats Nadal at Indian Wells, Fulfilling a Prediction

    The tournament has been a launching pad for young players recently, including Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, who went on to win the U.S. Open in the same year.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Back in the day, Taylor Fritz and his father Guy would drive north on the highway from San Diego, come over the Santa Rosa Mountains and navigate the switchback turns down to the Coachella Valley, where the world’s best tennis players gather every March in Indian Wells.Fritz, a talented junior, was just another boy patrolling the courts and hunting for fun and autographs, including Rafael Nadal’s, but Fritz’s father told him something extraordinary.“He told me that I was going to win this tournament one day,” Fritz said.On Sunday, Fritz, now 24, did just that: holding off a diminished but still dangerous Nadal, one of the greatest players in tennis’s long history.“This is seriously like a childhood dream come true,” said Fritz, fighting off tears after fighting off Nadal, 6-3, 7-6 (5). “Like a wild dream you never expect to actually happen.”Guy Fritz, who peaked at No. 301 in the ATP rankings in 1979, long believed in his son, who has reached No. 8 with this victory. But it has taken Taylor until now to develop the faith and the forehand to take out a champion like Nadal at such a tournament.It is a Masters 1000 event, a step below a Grand Slam tournament but the top-tier category on the regular tour, and Indian Wells has become a signature stop. It has vast grounds, excellent facilities and robust attendance even if this year’s total of 329,764 fans, with vaccination required for spectators, was no match for the prepandemic figure of 475,372 in 2019.The event also has strong backing from its billionaire owner Larry Ellison, who was sitting in the front row of his box on Sunday to watch Nadal, his friend and regular houseguest, try to remain unbeaten in 2022.Like Roger Federer, Nadal has endured and impressed long enough to transcend nationality. A Spaniard, Nadal has been on tour for nearly 20 years and won his record 21st Grand Slam singles title at this year’s Australian Open.Fritz, who grew up in nearby San Diego County in the elite enclave of Rancho Santa Fe, considers the BNP Paribas Open his “home tournament,” and though he did get considerable support, it sometimes felt like he was playing an away game against Nadal.But Fritz would not be denied as he finished off the victory on his second match point, ripping a forehand approach shot down the line that the lunging Nadal could not handle.“No way!” the wide-eyed Fritz shouted repeatedly.A title certainly had looked unlikely a few hours earlier when Fritz walked onto the same court and shouted in anguish as he attempted to push off on his right foot during a warm-up session that lasted only a few minutes. “Like, the worst pain imaginable,” he said. “I was really upset, basically almost crying, because I thought I was going to have to pull out.”After numbing the ankle with painkilling treatment, he went back out to hit on an outside court and felt better. But his coaches, Michael Russell and Paul Annacone, and fitness trainer, Wolfgang Oswald, all advised against him playing in the final, concerned Fritz might do longer-term damage to the ankle he had twisted in the semifinal on Saturday.Fritz ignored the advice. “I feel bad for those guys: I’m so stubborn,” he said. “I went out there, and I seriously played the match with zero pain.”Still, he has scheduled for Monday a magnetic resonance imaging scan on his ankle. It looks much more unlikely that he will play in this week’s Miami Open than it does for Iga Swiatek, who won the women’s singles title earlier on Sunday.Iga Swiatek celebrated after defeating Maria Sakkari to win the women’s singles title.Ray Acevedo/EPA, via ShutterstockSwiatek, the 20-year-old Polish star who is as thoughtful as she is powerful, defeated Maria Sakkari, 6-4, 6-1, in what was a match for the title but also for the No. 2 ranking.Swiatek, now ranked only behind Ashleigh Barty, was the more reliable force in the gusting wind with her heavy groundstrokes, particularly the forehand that she hits with extreme topspin, like her role model Nadal. Until this year, her biggest titles have come on clay: above all the 2020 French Open title that she won at age 19 without dropping a set.But Swiatek clearly has the skill and will to be No. 1 and an all-surface threat. After winning the WTA 1000 in Doha, Qatar on a hardcourt, she ran her winning streak to 11 matches by winning for the first time in Indian Wells.This tournament has been the site of big breakthroughs in recent years: Naomi Osaka won in 2018 and went on to claim her first major at that year’s U.S. Open; Bianca Andreescu did the same double in 2019.Fritz, who had never reached a Masters 1000 final until this tournament, required third-set tiebreakers to get past Jaume Munar and Alex de Minaur and three sets to defeat Miomir Kecmanovic before finding his form and range against Andrey Rublev on Saturday.“His victory of yesterday is much bigger than his victory of today, because he had a much tougher opponent,” Nadal said of the Rublev match.Nadal’s glum comment was a reference to the pain that he began feeling in his chest late in his windblown semifinal victory over Spanish compatriot Carlos Alcaraz on Saturday.Nadal had to stretch and strain to adjust his shots to those unpredictable conditions, and though he said he had not yet received a clear diagnosis, it was possible that, in contorting himself in the wind against Alcaraz, he had strained a pectoral muscle or intercostal muscle near his ribs.“When I try to breathe, it’s painful and very uncomfortable,” said Nadal, now 20-1 in 2022. “But that’s it no? It’s not the moment to talk about that, honestly. Even if it’s obvious that I was not able to do the normal things today. That’s it. It’s a final. I tried. I lost against a great player.”Fritz’s parents were touring professionals who helped to shape his game when he was young. His mother Kathy May was ranked as high as No. 10 in singles in 1977 on the WTA Tour and reached three Grand Slam singles quarterfinals during her career.After her son’s victory, May spoke courtside with Martina Navratilova, whom May once defeated on tour, and later posed for photographs on court with her son.Fritz was married at 18 and is the father of a 5-year-old son Jordan but is now divorced and traveling with his girlfriend Morgan Riddle.“She’s so committed to making sure I’m doing all the right things, like I’m going to bed on time,” he said in an interview. “It’s just someone who’s holding me accountable, who also wants the same things I want, and it’s amazing just to have someone who cares and who can help me do the right things.”What Fritz wanted this season was a place in the top 10, and now he has one. He was ranked No. 39 in early October but said he tweaked his forehand technique after watching footage of a junior match he played against Rublev. “We were just absolutely crushing the ball,” Fritz said. “I watched exactly how I was hitting my forehand and just tried to copy it as much as possible.”He reached the semifinals in Indian Wells last year when the tournament was delayed and played in October, and he has been defeating top 20 players with regularity since then. He is the first American to win the singles in Indian Wells since 2001 when Andre Agassi won the men’s title and Serena Williams won the women’s title.Fritz was 3 at the time. But Indian Wells soon became a regular part of his life and when he returned this year, he looked up at the big photograph of reigning men’s champion Cameron Norrie on the wall of the players’ lounge and imagined his own photo taking its place.“All week, I was like, it would be so cool for that to be my picture,” he said. Mission accomplished, and a long-ago prediction has also come true.“He was just really, really proud of me,” Fritz said of his father, tearing up as he smiled. “It’s really tough to get a compliment out of him.” More

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    At Indian Wells, Spain’s Nadal and Alcaraz Meet in Men’s Semifinal

    One is a champion many times over who is enjoying a late-career revival. The other is a newcomer overflowing with potential who is quickly closing the gap.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Rafael Nadal, who had just defused Nick Kyrgios in three tense sets to reach the semifinals of the BNP Paribas Open, was trying to focus on the questions.But Nadal kept getting distracted at the news conference on Thursday, looking at the television in the corner of the room that was showing the quarterfinal match between his 18-year-old Spanish compatriot Carlos Alcaraz and the defending champion, Cameron Norrie.“It was a break point,” Nadal explained as he shifted his gaze back to the reporters at hand. “Sorry, about that.”Despite his youth, Alcaraz, born in Murcia and coached by the former No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, has long been considered a potentially great player by tennis cognoscenti inside and outside Spain.But potential and reality are converging quickly. After defeating Norrie, 6-4, 6-3, Alcaraz is into the semifinals for the first time at a Masters 1000 event. He will face Nadal, the ultimate Spanish tennis champion, who holds the men’s record with 21 Grand Slam singles titles and is unbeaten in 2022.Nadal, 35, is nearly twice Alcaraz’s age and defeated him, 6-1, 6-2, last year on clay on Alcaraz’s 18th birthday in the round of 32 at the Madrid Open. Alcaraz needed treatment for an abdominal injury early in that match, but he was also nervous and impatient as he faced one of his idols.But Alcaraz’s second match with Nadal, which will come on a gritty hardcourt on Saturday, could be considerably more compelling. Since their first meeting, Alcaraz has soared into the top 20, reaching the quarterfinals in his first U.S. Open last year, winning the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan and then recovering from Covid-19 to win 11 of his 12 singles matches so far in 2022.“Carlos is not even the future; he’s the present,” said Paula Badosa, the top-ranked Spanish woman and reigning singles champion in Indian Wells.Saturday should provide an excellent sense of how far Alcaraz has come. Hardcourts should not be his best surface. He grew up, like Nadal, playing primarily on clay in Spain. But he now practices regularly on hardcourts at the academy in Villena where he trains under Ferrero. And as Alcaraz’s deep run at the U.S. Open made clear, he knows how to move, slide and entertain on this surface, too.Win or lose on Saturday, Nadal believes Alcaraz is the real deal.“I think he’s unstoppable in terms of his career,” Nadal said. “He has all the ingredients. He has the passion. He’s humble enough to work hard. He’s a good guy.”That is unusually high praise from Nadal, normally wary of adding to the burden of expectations on emerging stars, but he went further, explaining that Alcaraz reminds him of himself at age 17 or 18.Nadal was a genuine teen prodigy who won the first of his 13 French Open singles titles at age 19 in 2005 and would most likely have won it earlier if injuries had not forced him to skip the tournament in 2003 and 2004.Alcaraz’s smile was as big as his forehand when informed of Nadal’s comments.“It means a lot to hear those kinds of things from Rafa about yourself,” he said in Spanish, which he speaks much more fluently than English. “Rafa’s been through all kinds of things and has been on the top for many years, and for him to make those kinds of comments is really inspiring.”He is the youngest men’s semifinalist at Indian Wells since the American Andre Agassi in 1988 and like Agassi, he is a natural crowd pleaser with a flashy game and quick-strike power. But unlike Agassi, he has blazing speed. On Thursday night, Alcaraz reached shots that would have been winners against most players, and earned a standing ovation from the crowd after one corner-to-corner-to-corner rally.“It’s very cool to see him that focused and engaged and maximizing what he’s got with all the talent that he’s got,” Norrie said. “He was too good today for me.”Carlos Alcaraz after match point against Cameron Norrie. Alcaraz is the youngest men’s semifinalist at Indian Wells since Andre Agassi in 1988.Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesBut tennis is a brutally competitive and grueling game. Injuries can change even the most gifted players’ trajectories: See Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine star with the thunderous forehand whose career appears to be over.But Alcaraz, for now, is an all-court marvel: predatory in the backcourt and forecourt; able to rip airborne groundstrokes or hit feathery forehand drop shots; able to play defense far behind the baseline or move forward to smack second-serve returns on the rise.“He walked all over me, and not because I was tired, but because of his physicality,” Gaël Monfils, the French star, said of his loss, 7-5, 6-1, to Alcaraz on Wednesday. “At some point, you just can’t hang in there anymore.”Nadal is in the midst of a revival: undefeated this season at 19-0 after winning three tournaments, including the Australian Open by rallying from a two-set deficit in the final against Daniil Medvedev.Nadal has worked his way through the draw here despite the chronic foot problem that ruined the end of last season for him and continues to cause him pain. He could have skipped this tournament to rest and prepare for his beloved clay, just as he is skipping next week’s Miami Open. But he enjoys Indian Wells, staying at the home of the tournament owner, Larry Ellison, and playing golf regularly.His tennis matches have been no vacation, however. He came within two points of defeat against the young American Sebastian Korda in his opening round before rallying from two breaks down in the third set. Kyrgios, one of the game’s biggest servers and flashiest shotmakers, pushed him to the wire.They remain quite the contrasts: Nadal the maximizer of potential; Kyrgios the flickering flame. Nadal is deliberate, sometimes ponderous, between serves and points. Kyrgios plays as if he has a plane to catch. Nadal has never thrown a racket in anger in his pro career; Kyrgios threw his twice on Thursday, the second time after losing the match, 7-6 (0), 5-7, 6-4. The racket rebounded off the court and flew toward the head of a ball boy standing near the back wall, who dodged it.Kyrgios, booed as he left the court on Thursday, has already been suspended by the men’s tour once in 2016 and put on probation a second time in 2019 for misbehavior. He risks another sanction after Thursday’s match, and the tour would be wise to crack down more convincingly on player tantrums. Last month, Alexander Zverev took four swings at an umpire’s chair, narrowly missing the umpire, in Acapulco, Mexico, and received no further suspension after being defaulted from the tournament.“When you allow the players to do stuff, then you don’t know when is the line, and it’s a tricky thing,” Nadal said.The Spaniard is now 6-3 against Kyrgios, who, for all his evident gifts, has yet to get past the quarterfinals in a Grand Slam singles tournament or win a Masters 1000 title.Nadal is one of the great champions in any sport and with victory secured and the news conference completed, he took a few more moments in front of the television to watch more of Alcaraz’s match and consider Saturday and beyond.“It’s great, honestly, to have such a star from my country,” Nadal said. “Because for the tennis lovers, we’re going to keep enjoying an amazing player fighting for the most important titles for the next I don’t know how many years. A lot of years.” More

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    At Indian Wells, a Shot of Optimism for American Men’s Tennis

    Long without a major tournament champion, the United States has four players in the round of 16 at the BNP Paribas Open and seven in the top 50.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — False dawns in American men’s tennis? There have been quite a few in the last 20 years here in the California desert and in more well-watered parts of the pro circuit.So, it is unquestionably wise not to get carried away in a sport the Europeans still rule, as they have since a smooth-moving Swiss man named Roger Federer calmed his nerves and slipped into a higher gear in 2004 to leave Andy Roddick in his rearview mirror at the top of the rankings.Since then, tall and good-natured American men in the shadows, like John Isner and Sam Querrey, have had to field countless variations of one question: “What has happened to American men’s tennis?”But Isner, 36, long the top-ranked American man, had a look of quiet confidence on Tuesday night as he revisited that topic.“I think for the first time in a while you can actually say American tennis on the men’s side is very promising,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”How not to detect a cool breeze of optimism after watching Tommy Paul, 24, knock out the third-seeded Alexander Zverev in a third-set tiebreaker here at the BNP Paribas Open on Sunday night and then seeing the 21-year-old Californian Jenson Brooksby outhit and outwit the fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas in another three-set upset the following night?Indian Wells, a second home to many an affluent elder, has been prime real estate for coming of age this year, and that does not even include the 21-year-old American Sebastian Korda’s missed opportunity against Rafael Nadal in the second round. Korda, the younger brother of the L.P.G.A. stars Nelly and Jessica, was up two service breaks and 5-2 in the final set before allowing Nadal, one of the game’s greats, to wriggle free.Patrick McEnroe, the ESPN analyst and retired player, said Sebastian Korda could be a top-five player.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via ReutersEven without Korda, four American men have reached the round of 16 here: Isner, Brooksby, Taylor Fritz and Reilly Opelka, the 6-foot-11 power server with a bushy beard and swing speed worthy of a lumberjack. That is the most since 2004, and it also reflects their rise in the ATP rankings. The seven American men in the top 50 is also the most since 2004, and six of those seven men — all but Isner — are under 25.It is no takeover: The top 10 remains nearly all European, with Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada as the lone interloper. But it is progress, and there appears to be considerable upside.“I think that’s true,” said Patrick McEnroe, an ESPN analyst, former pro player and U.S. Davis Cup captain. “I think particularly from Opelka, Brooksby, Korda and maybe throw Fritz in there, although I don’t know if he’s got the athleticism to get to the top-top.”McEnroe, like a lot of people in tennis, looks at the 18-year-old Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, with his blazing speed and all-action, all-court game, and clearly sees a future No. 1 player.“I wouldn’t say that about the Americans,” McEnroe said. “But I would say, to me, I could see Brooksby, Korda and Opelka definitely hitting the top five at some point and definitely getting to the final four or final of a major. That’s what it’s going to take to get the average fan a little bit more interested in it, no doubt. So, I’m very optimistic, and if you have one or two of those guys do that, I think the other guys will feel even more emboldened.”For now, the Americans have a daunting Wednesday ahead with Opelka facing Nadal, Brooksby facing the defending tournament champion Cameron Norrie, Fritz facing the No. 29 seed Alex de Minaur, and Isner facing the No. 33 seed Grigor Dimitrov.This has been a long time building, and McEnroe had a view near the ground floor as the head of the United States Tennis Association’s player development program. He was pushed out in late 2014 in part because of poor men’s tour results. When his tenure ended, Isner was the only American man ranked in the top 50, but while in his role, McEnroe heard and saw plenty of Opelka, Paul, Fritz and Frances Tiafoe, a charismatic African American player from the Washington, D.C., area.All four are projected to be ranked in the top 40 after this tournament, with Opelka currently the top-ranked American at No. 17.“It’s cool that we can all do this together,” said Fritz, who is ranked 20th, after his narrow third-round victory over the Spanish qualifier Jaume Munar on Tuesday.They are fast friends. Boyhood group photos abound, and Opelka and Paul were long housemates in Florida. Like many groups of talented players from the same country, they are feeding off each other and pushing each other.“It’s really not surprising,” Fritz said. “I’ve been around these guys my whole life. I know how good they are.”Fritz, Opelka and Paul were all Grand Slam tournament junior singles champions, which is not necessarily a harbinger of professional success, although it certainly was for Federer, who won the Wimbledon boys’ title in 1998.But the Americans have all made it on tour. Trailing them in age, but not potential, are Korda and Brooksby, both 21 years old but with very different games.Korda is the 6-foot-5 son of Peter Korda, the 1998 Australian Open winner, and the retired WTA player Regina Rajchrtova. He has a flowing, balanced game with easy power, and his emotions, by design, are difficult to read on his placid game face.Brooksby is a fiery 6-foot-4 scrapper from Sacramento with an underpowered serve who has not been on tennis experts’ radar nearly as long as Korda has. His style is confrontational, and his strokes are artisanal. But his contact points are consistently clean, and his two-handed backhand is a versatile marvel — and he can punch and counterpunch with conviction with his forehand, too.“He’s a little bit unconventional in his ball-striking, but the space between a foot or two behind the ball and a foot or two in front of the ball, he repeats that over and over again,” said Brad Stine, Paul’s coach. “Would I teach someone to hit a ball exactly the way he hits the ball? No. But it’s absolutely, 100 percent repeatable for him.”The 6-foot-11 Reilly Opelka has used a powerful serve to climb to No. 17 in the rankings.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via ReutersStine compares Brooksby to the former top-five player Brad Gilbert, an author of the book “Winning Ugly.” Brooksby has repeatedly left higher-ranked players mystified and disgruntled during his brief and successful professional career. Add Tsitsipas, the hirsute Greek with the polished game and elegant one-handed backhand, to that list, as he damned Brooksby with faint praise (in defeat).“He’s not a very explosive player, but he’s able to get balls back,” Tsitsipas sniffed. “He’s not the most athletic player, as well. He’s just able to read the game well, play with his pace, play with the opponents’ pace.”“There’s nothing that he has that kills, I would say,” Tsitsipas concluded.But Brooksby seemed far from miffed. “I think a lot of players and coaches maybe don’t see how I could be as good of a level as I am,” he said. “That’s what we shoot for in our games and strategy, not to be too easily figured out. That’s how the top players over history have been.”For now, Brooksby is ranked 43rd. The top spot, occupied by Daniil Medvedev of Russia and soon to be reoccupied by Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, is a long way off. It remains highly advisable to keep the Champagne in the fridge with young talents like Alcaraz and Italy’s Jannik Sinner already well-established threats, but the Americans and the collective mood are justifiably upbeat.Even Isner did not seem to mind answering yet another question about the future on Tuesday: What would it take for us to say American men’s tennis is really back? A Slam title?“No, because the bar has been set pretty low since 2003, probably,” Isner said. “I think getting two guys in the top 10 would be a good starting point. Then you go from there.”That, in Isner’s mind, “in the near future is very conceivable.” More

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    At Indian Wells, Daniil Medvedev Faces Backlash Over Ukraine Invasion

    At Indian Wells, the Russian fell in the third round to Gael Monfils of France, as Medvedev faced criticism that Russian players should not be competing because of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Daniil Medvedev’s reign as the No. 1 men’s tennis player will not last long — at least, not this time.Medvedev, a 26-year-old Russian, took over the top spot for the first time in his career last week from Novak Djokovic, but his third-round loss to Gael Monfils on Monday will allow Djokovic to reclaim the No. 1 ranking next week. Djokovic will ascend even though he was unable to play in the BNP Paribas Open because of the vaccination requirement for non-American visitors to the United States.Medvedev, who is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, did make the journey to California, although some of his peers believe he also should not have been allowed to compete at Indian Wells because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.Russian athletes have been banned from most international team competitions and some individual events, including World Cup competitions in biathlon and skiing and the recently concluded Beijing Winter Paralympics.Marta Kostyuk, a rising Ukrainian star, said at Indian Wells that she did not think Russian tennis players like Medvedev should be allowed to compete. But after lengthy debate, tennis’s governing bodies have decided to preserve players’ right to compete individually as neutrals while banning Russia and Belarus, its ally, from team events like the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.Medvedev is grateful to keep his job, but all too aware that these are fluid, deeply sensitive circumstances. “First of all, it’s definitely not for me to decide,” he said. “I follow the rules. I cannot do anything else. Right now, the rule is that we can play under our neutral flag.”But the war certainly changes the optics of matches like Monday’s.Gael Monfils after winning his third-round match at Indian Wells.Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today Sports, via ReutersMonfils, a Frenchman, recently married Elina Svitolina, Ukraine’s biggest tennis star, who was watching from his player box on Monday as the Ukrainian flag flapped in the breeze in its new place of honor atop the main stadium at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. The flag was installed there this year next to the American one in a show of support for Ukraine.Monfils, ranked No. 28 at age 35, said he did not view Monday’s match — or his surprising, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, victory — through a political lens, but a personal one.“I’m not very political in general,” he said in French. “I’m a support for my wife. A sad thing has come to her country. I try to do the maximum to support her in whatever she chooses to do, but today we were here for playing. I’m simply happy to have won my match.”Monfils said that it had been difficult to see the distress of his Ukrainian in-laws.“It’s not easy to see my wife a couple weeks ago crying every night,” he said in English. “Still quite a lot of family still there. It’s tough describe because I’m in it. And it’s just kind of crazy when you think about it, but we try to manage it the best way we can.”Kostyuk, beaten in the second round here, said she was upset that more Russian players had not approached her to apologize directly for the invasion, but many of the Russian and Belarusian stars, including Medvedev, have called for peace. Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1, said she had sought out Ukrainian players since the war began last month.“Whatever I say I know can be twisted in many, many different ways,” she said. “But one thing that’s missing in this world is compassion toward each other and empathy. That’s something I feel I can offer to people.”Medvedev’s short stint at No. 1 has not been business as usual. Reaching the top spot in the rankings is one of tennis’s ultimate achievements, and Medvedev is the first man outside the Big Four of Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to reign at No. 1 since early 2004.In normal times, that would have been cause for fanfare. But these are traumatic times, and though the ATP Tour did award Medvedev the crystal trophy it reserves for first-time No. 1 players and hold a photo shoot with his support team, there was no media tour; no series of promotional events and interviews.His management company, I.M.G., has said that no sponsors have dropped Medvedev since the war began, but this is not an appropriate climate for Medvedev to be searching for new international sponsors.A courtside sign at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.Ray Acevedo/EPA, via ShutterstockWith the war, it is prudent for Russian stars to maintain a low profile. Speaking out against the war or President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could carry risks for them and their relatives who are still in Russia or Belarus.“I don’t think you should ask them to be more vocal about it, because they have family to consider, and now, you know, they can get 15 years in prison for talking about the war,” said Martina Navratilova, the former top-ranked player who defected in 1975 to the United States from Czechoslovakia when it was part of the Soviet bloc.Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 4A show of E.U. support. More

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    Should Russian Athletes Be Barred From Competition?

    Our columnist examines whether the soft power of sport should be wielded against Russia, penalizing athletes with little or no say in its actions.Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, the top-ranked male tennis player in the world, is the No. 1 seed at the big Indian Wells tournament set to finish this weekend.Should he still be playing while his country is invading Ukraine?Russia’s Alex Ovechkin is one of the most gifted hockey players the world has seen. And oh, by the way, he’s a longtime supporter of President Vladimir V. Putin. Should Ovechkin still be scoring goals for the N.H.L.’s Washington Capitals?Should any Russian nationals be allowed on the sports world stage right now?In an effort to condemn sports-loving Putin and further isolate his nation, the sports world reacted with remarkable swiftness as the war in Ukraine began. We’ve seen Russia barred from World Cup qualifiers in soccer and its basketball teams cut from international play. Tennis called off its Moscow tournament, and Formula 1 ended ties with the Russian Grand Prix.Even the normally tentative International Olympic Committee got in the mix by recommending athletes from Russia and Belarus, which has supported the invasion, be barred from sports events, and the Paralympics after some wavering did just that.But the bans are not complete.Many Russian athletes continue to prosper right in front of us. Individual soccer players can still participate in European soccer leagues. Ovechkin leads a robust Russian contingent in professional hockey, and the country’s tennis players continue to make good livings on the pro tours, though they cannot participate in tournaments with any national identification.Should these players’ days as competitors outside Russia be numbered — at least until the war ends and Ukraine sovereignty is restored?Bruce Kidd thinks so. Kidd represented Canada at the 1964 Summer Olympics as a distance runner, and has long been a human rights leader in sports.During the era of South African apartheid, he helped lead the charge for Canadian restrictions on South African athletes, which began taking effect in the 1970s.When I spoke to him last week, Kidd was adamant: Using hockey as an example that could spread globally, he believes Russian nationals in the N.H.L. should be barred once the current season ends in June, their immigration visas suspended with the door open for asylum.Such a move would not stop the war, of course. But similar to the effort he promoted during apartheid, ending Russian sports participation would buttress economic penalties, deprive Putin the chance to revel in the athletic exploits of Russian players and send a message of support to Ukraine.“The No. 1 argument is to say, ‘Mr. Putin, the sports community is so outraged by your repeated violations of human rights, your violation of the basic values of sports and fair play, that we are saying enough is enough,” said Kidd, whose idea has been echoed in similar form by the Ukrainian Embassy in Canada. “We are showing you and your population our abhorrence.”Bruce Kidd, a professor and longtime humanitarian in the Canadian sports world, at his home in Toronto.Cole Burston for The New York TimesKidd, now the ombudsperson at the University of Toronto, knows detractors will tell him that such a move runs contrary to the principles of a free society. In normal times, he would agree. Not now.All Russian athletes, he added, are highly visible representatives of the nation they come from, “whether they like it or not.”I tend to agree with Kidd. But I’m also wary. Barring individual athletes is likely to add to the unfounded feeling of grievance shared by Putin and many in Russia. It may also fuel dangerous xenophobia against everyday people of Russian descent.That eerie silence from most Russian athletes, the refusal to say anything critical after blood doping scandals and now the bombing and killing in Ukraine? No doubt some stay quiet because they support Putin and want to steer clear of controversy.Some also stay quiet out of well-placed fear for their safety and that of family in Russia.If we bar all sports stars from the aggressive nation in this war, what about those who have taken the risk of speaking against it?Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 3Looking for a way out. More

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    Naomi Osaka Brought to Tears by Heckler at Indian Wells

    “I don’t know why, but it went into my head,” said Osaka, who otherwise had ample support from the crowd in her loss to Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — Crying on court after being heckled by a spectator, Naomi Osaka was knocked out of the BNP Paribas Open in the second round on Saturday.Osaka, the Japanese star who has struggled with her mental health and with ambivalence toward professional tennis, spoke to the crowd directly at her request after her 6-0, 6-4 defeat against the No. 21 seed, Veronika Kudermetova.Fighting for composure, Osaka explained that the heckler, who shouted, “Naomi, you suck!” after the opening game, had made her flash back to footage she had seen of Venus and Serena Williams being booed and jeered at Indian Wells during the tournament in 2001.“To be honest, I’ve gotten heckled before, and it didn’t really bother me,” Osaka said. “But, like, heckled here? I watched a video of Venus and Serena getting heckled here, and if you’ve never watched it, you should watch it.“And I don’t know why, but it went into my head, and it got replayed a lot,” she continued, apparently referring to Saturday’s match.Osaka then thanked the crowd, slung her bag over her shoulder and left the court.Osaka, a former No. 1 whose ranking has dropped to No. 78, was unseeded this year at Indian Wells, where she made a major breakthrough by winning her first WTA singles title in 2018 as an unseeded player. She has gone on to win four Grand Slam singles titles, most recently at the 2021 Australian Open. But since then, she has played infrequently and has not won another tour event, or even reached another final. Saturday’s defeat was her latest setback, and her latest vulnerable moment in the public eye.“I feel like I’ve cried enough on camera,” she said in teary post-match remarks to the crowd. She skipped her post-match news conference.Osaka fought back tears in her brief remarks to the crowd after her defeat.Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesAfter the tension in 2001, the Williams sisters did not return to the tournament in Indian Wells for more than a decade, with Serena only coming back in 2015 and Venus in 2016. Serena, now 40, and Venus, now 41, are still active players but neither is participating in the event this year.During the Williams sisters’ early years as professionals, there was speculation on tour that their father and co-coach, Richard Williams, was prearranging the results of their matches against each other. At Indian Wells in 2001, the Russian player Elena Dementieva spoke about her suspicion publicly after losing to Venus Williams in the quarterfinals.When Venus withdrew from the semifinal against Serena only minutes before it was to begin, citing tendinitis in her right knee, the crowd responded by booing. Dementieva later insisted her comment had been joke, and the sisters and Richard Williams denied that any of their match results were prearranged.But two days later, Serena Williams was booed throughout the tournament final, and Richard Williams, who was watching from the stands with Venus, said he was subjected to racial slurs. Serena Williams won in three sets but has said that the experience was traumatic and “haunted” her and her family for years.The circumstances on Saturday seemed vastly different. Osaka, 24, had ample support from the overwhelming majority of the crowd. There were several thousand fans scattered throughout the stands in the 16,100-seat main stadium on a chilly evening, and after the heckler’s insult — clearly audible on the television broadcasts of the match — there were loud cheers for Osaka’s few winners in the opening set and even more support for her down the stretch as she raised her game.Osaka defeated the former U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in three sets in the first round on Thursday. But she faced another tough test in Kudermetova, a powerful Russian on the rise whom she had never played in singles.“I want to play that match because I want to see what I can improve, what I need to improve,” Kudermetova said. But the match ended up illustrating more about Osaka’s vulnerabilities and tennis weaknesses than about Kudermetova’s strengths.Osaka took a three-month break from the game after losing to Leylah Fernandez in the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, explaining that she was no longer finding joy in competing. She returned to the tour in Australia in January with a more upbeat mind-set but was beaten in the third round of the Australian Open by the American Amanda Anisimova.Indian Wells was only Osaka’s third tournament in six months, and while she conceded that she needed more matches to get back “into the swing of things” she only got two more here.Kudermetova broke Osaka’s serve in the opening game, and the spectator’s shout came as Osaka prepared to return serve. She approached the chair umpire, Paula Vieira Souza, and appeared to ask about having the spectator ejected, but Souza politely demurred. Kudermetova held serve, and Osaka began to tear up as she prepared to serve the next game.“I didn’t hear what the lady say because I really so focus on my game, on my service game,” Kudermetova said of the heckler. “I didn’t understand what she said, but after that moment, I saw that Naomi, she start to cry.”After Osaka was broken again, she had another extended conversation with Souza, who reassured her that if the spectator heckled her again, the person would be identified and ejected. Osaka asked if she could use the referee’s microphone to address the crowd directly.Souza declined, and the WTA Tour supervisor Clare Wood was called to the court and discussed the matter with Osaka as the player sat on her chair.When play resumed, Osaka continued to struggle to find her range and lost the set at love. Wood spoke with Osaka again before the start of the second set, which was much more competitive. But Kudermetova broke Osaka’s serve in the seventh game and went on to close out her victory.Osaka shook hands with her opponent and then waited for Kudermetova to give the customary victor’s on-court interview before walking to the microphone herself. Though Osaka thanked the crowd in her brief remarks, Osaka’s decision to connect her treatment on Saturday to the Williams sisters’ experiences in 2001 was surely unwelcome linkage for tournament organizers.Andrew Krasny, the on-court interviewer at the BNP Paribas Open, tried to reassure Osaka as she finished her remarks and headed for the exit.“Out of about 10,000 people, one person’s voice can’t weigh out 9,999 others,” he said. “We love you here.” More

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    At Indian Wells, Ukrainian Tennis Stars Take Their Fight to the Court

    Playing through fear of the war, Marta Kostyuk said that she must show “what it’s like having a Ukrainian heart” and that it “hurts” to see Russian players at the tournament.INDIAN WELLS, Calif. — The Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk and the Belgian veteran Maryna Zanevska played for more than three hours in the sun and a swirling wind.They played through pain and concern about issues much larger than tennis, and when they met on the same side of the net after Kostyuk’s victory, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6), 7-5, in the opening round on Thursday, they shared a long, tearful embrace and a similar message.“I told her that everything is going to be all right,” Zanevska said.“I told her that everything is going to be OK, that our parents are going to be OK,” Kostyuk said.Indian Wells is a 10-hour time change and more than 6,000 miles away from the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, where Kostyuk was born, and from the Ukrainian port city of Odessa, where Zanevska was born before immigrating to Belgium in her teens and leaving her relatives behind.But Ukraine’s war with Russia, now into its third week, still feels inescapably close to the Ukrainian players competing at the BNP Paribas Open.“It’s just terrifying,” said Kostyuk, 19, one of tennis’s brightest young talents. “Especially in the beginning, the first couple days, my whole family was there. They were all in one house, so if anything was about to happen, I would lose the whole family. So, thinking of it is just you go to sleep and you don’t know if you wake up the next morning having the family.”She continued: “I’m coping the way I’ve been coping. Everyone is different. I chose to fight. I came here. At the beginning, I was feeling guilty that I’m not there. You know, the whole family is there but not me. I was feeling guilty that I’m playing tennis, that I have the sky above me that is blue and bright and very calm and mixed feelings. But you can’t be in this position, because everyone is fighting how they can fight, and my job is to play tennis, and this is the biggest way I can help in the current situation.”Daniil Medvedev of Russia, left, with another Russian player, Karen Khachanov, at Indian Wells this week.Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesRussian players are in Indian Wells, too, but while Kostyuk played with Ukraine next to her name in the draw and on the scoreboard, the Russians and the Belarusian athletes, whose country has cooperated with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, are playing without national symbols or identification, as mandated by the men’s and women’s tours.Ukraine’s biggest tennis star, Elina Svitolina, lobbied successfully for that policy before she agreed to play Russia’s Anastasia Potapova in a match at the tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, earlier this month. But Kostyuk believes Russian players should be barred from competing on tour altogether, even as individuals.“I don’t agree with the action that has been taken,” she said. “Look at the other sports. Look at the big sports, what they did.”Russian and Belarusian athletes were banned from the Paralympics in Beijing, and Russian national teams and clubs have been banned from major global sports like soccer and basketball. But though Russian and Belarusian track and field athletes have been barred from major competitions like this year’s world outdoor championships in Eugene, Ore., individual Russian athletes are still allowed to compete internationally for their non-Russian clubs in, for example, European soccer leagues and the N.H.L.Daniil Medvedev, the Russian men’s star who recently displaced Novak Djokovic atop the rankings, acknowledged that “there is always a possibility” that Russian tennis players could be banned altogether.“We never know,” Medvedev said in Indian Wells on Wednesday. “The way the situation is evolving in other sports, some sports made this decision, especially the team sports.”But for now, tennis has taken a comparatively moderate approach, although this year’s men’s and women’s tour events in Moscow have been canceled and Russian teams have been barred from the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup.“I do feel really sorry that the Russian players have to go through this, but the Ukrainian people are going through much worse things,” Maryna Zanevska said.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images“It’s a very tricky thing because I see that all other sports are removing Russians from their competitions,” Zanevska said. “And in the tennis community they did a few steps like removing the flag, and I can imagine it’s tough for the Russian players as well. But really unfortunately, Ukraine needs support as much as possible from all over the world, all the communities, all the types of sports. It counts. I do feel really sorry that the Russian players have to go through this, but the Ukrainian people are going through much worse things.”The Russian star Andrey Rublev wrote “No war please” on the camera in Dubai last month, and others like Medvedev and the Belarusian women’s stars Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka have called for “peace.” But Kostyuk, whose yellow-and-blue tennis outfit here matches the colors of Ukraine’s flag, said she did not like such vague appeals.“For me ‘No war’ means a lot of things,” she said. “No war? We can stop the war by giving up, but I know this was never an option.”She added: “These ‘No war’ statements, they hurt me — they hurt me because they have no substance.”Such sentiments are, nonetheless, too strong for the tournament organizers here. On Thursday, as Kostyuk and Zanevska played in Stadium 6, Wilfred Williams and Mary Beth Williams, American fans, held up a homemade banner that featured two Ukrainian flags and two messages written in Russian: the word “war” with a diagonal line through it and “Let’s go!”After the match, a tournament official told the Williamses, who are siblings, that they could not continue to display the banner. The BNP Paribas Open does not allow politically oriented signs, although national flags are permitted, and the tournament, in a show of support, has placed Ukrainian flags in its two main stadiums.“We just love peace and love tennis,” Mary Beth Williams said.Ukraine’s biggest tennis star, Elina Svitolina, at the Monterrey Open last month.Daniel Becerril/ReutersKostyuk said she had been in Kyiv in late 2013 and early 2014 when a series of protests led to the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russia president who later fled the country.“I remember how united everyone was and I remember that we changed the government, and the fact that the guy decided that he thought that finally after eight years we would want to join him, I think, is a very big mistake,” Kostyuk said, referring to Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s president.Both Kostyuk and Zanevska, whose parents remain in Odessa, said they were disappointed that Russian players had not expressed regret for the invasion to them directly.Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to KnowCard 1 of 4On the ground. More

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    Zverev’s Swings Merited More Than a Slap on the Wrist

    After striking the umpire’s chair during an outburst at a tournament in Mexico, Alexander Zverev can avoid a fine and suspension if he does not commit further violations for one year.SAN DIEGO — Somehow, the men’s tennis tour is allowing the German star Alexander Zverev to play on. He will be in the field for the BNP Paribas Open, which begins this week in Indian Wells, Calif., despite his frightening, unacceptable abuse of an official just two weeks ago after a defeat in doubles in Acapulco, Mexico.“The conduct of Zverev was the most egregious example of physical abuse of an official that I have seen in my decades working in and observing men’s professional tennis,” said Richard Ings, a former executive vice president for rules and competition at the ATP Tour.After cursing at the chair umpire Alessandro Germani following a questionable line call, Zverev took four big swings at the umpire’s chair with his racket after the match. The first three blows landed close to Germani, causing him to flinch and shift his feet at one point to avoid being struck. After Zverev took a short break to curse at Germani some more, he returned for one more swing at the chair.He was appropriately defaulted from the tournament after winning his subsequent singles match, fined $40,000 and docked the prize money he would have earned from the event. But though the follow-up investigation by the ATP rightly determined that Zverev, 24, had committed a “major offense,” he received the equivalent of a suspended sentence on Monday.Zverev has been fined an additional $25,000 and given an eight-week suspension, but both the fine, a pittance to a top-10 player like Zverev, and the suspension will not be levied if he avoids further code violations for unsportsmanlike conduct or physical or verbal abuse for one year after the date of his outburst in Mexico.This is, at best, a firm slap on the wrist, and it is hard to think of another major professional sport that would opt for such half-measures if an official were physically threatened to this degree by a player. Tennis does not shrink from suspending players for gambling on matches or for doping. But the sport has been sending inconsistent signals on protecting umpires for too long now, and the recent uptick in players confronting officials may be one of the consequences — see Daniil Medvedev’s and Denis Shapovalov’s outbursts at this year’s Australian Open. With the wider use of electronic line calling, tension between players and umpires should be dropping, not increasing. But Zverev raised the temperature far too high in Acapulco.“Suspended sentences are a good tool when the player has a good conduct history, and I’ve used them, but in this case the misconduct was egregious and physically directed at the official in their place of work,” said Ings, who was in his ATP role from 2001-5. “A line has been crossed, and previous history is irrelevant. I would have imposed a four-week suspension, and I’ve held the exact job that made such decisions for the ATP.”Miro Bratoev, the ATP’s current senior vice president of rules and competition, did not provide an explanation for Monday’s ruling. He is relatively new to the role, which he assumed in 2020, but several factors could have nudged him toward leniency.Although Zverev has broken plenty of rackets, he has committed no major offense violations until now. The ATP investigation into accusations that Zverev abused his former girlfriend, Olga Sharypova, is ongoing, and thus could not play a role in Monday’s penalty.Zverev’s apology after the Acapulco incident also was profuse. “It is difficult to put into words how much I regret my behavior during and after the doubles match yesterday,” he wrote on social media. “I have privately apologized to the chair umpire because my outburst towards him was wrong and unacceptable.”There is also the matter of tennis precedent. Bratoev’s predecessor, Gayle David Bradshaw, favored probation and also chose the suspended-sentence route in 2019 with Nick Kyrgios, the combustible Australian player, after a series of tantrums that included Kyrgios verbally abusing the chair umpire Fergus Murphy and spitting in his direction. Kyrgios was given probation even though he already had been suspended once for a “major offense” after showing a serious lack of effort in a match in Shanghai in 2016 (that suspension was reduced from eight weeks to three after Kyrgios agreed to see a sports psychologist).Other leading players also have struck the umpire’s chair with their rackets in anger without being suspended. Karolina Pliskova, a former world No. 1, smacked the side of the chair after a loss to Maria Sakkari in Rome in 2018 and received only an unspecified four-figure fine from the women’s tour. Medvedev, now the ATP No. 1, struck the chair twice during the 2020 ATP Cup and was given a point penalty and a fine.But though both of those incidents also deserved stiffer penalties, neither Pliskova nor Medvedev came nearly as close to striking the chair umpire or to displaying the same level of fury as Zverev.“If a player breaks his racket on the umpire’s chair, and he is literally a few centimeters away from hitting the umpire’s leg, he should not be allowed to get on a tennis court until he’s gone through some kind of rehab, some kind of time,” said Mats Wilander, a former No. 1-ranked player and a Eurosport analyst, before the ATP ruling was announced. “We need to punish him accordingly and allowing him to come out and play professional tennis the week after — or two weeks after — that is too soon.”Zverev played in the Davis Cup in Brazil last week.Sergio Moraes/ReutersSerena Williams spoke about Zverev’s outburst in an interview with CNN last week, saying there was “absolutely a double standard” and that she “would probably be in jail if I did that — like, literally, no joke.”Monday’s soft punishment of Zverev likely did little to change her view, but its relevant to remember that Williams also avoided suspension in 2009 after a profanity-filled tirade against a lineswoman during her U.S. Open semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. Williams, despite threatening to shove the ball down the official’s throat, was fined $82,500 and placed on probation for two years.Zverev, ranked No. 3, already has competed since the incident in Acapulco, representing Germany in a Davis Cup match in Brazil last week. The Germans won, but Zverev complained afterward that the crowd had crossed a line by directing personal abuse at his family and support team.Sharypova, a Russian player, has not brought formal charges against Zverev since her accusations of domestic abuse were first reported by Racquet Magazine in November 2020. He has denied abusing her, and the ATP did not announce its investigation until nearly a year later. The inquiry is, according to ATP officials, being conducted by an outside party.It has been a tense time for quite some time for Zverev, but he has managed to produce some brilliant tennis: He won the gold medal in singles at last year’s Summer Olympics, pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets in the semifinals of the 2021 U.S. Open and then defeated Djokovic and Medvedev to win the prestigious season-ending ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, in November.But this season has not begun auspiciously for a player who has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament singles title. One of the big favorites at the Australian Open, he was upset in the fourth round by Shapovalov in three error-strewn sets, demolishing a racket in frustration in the second.Then came Acapulco and a much more serious failure to control his temper. It should have cost him more than a default, a middling fine and probation, but the ATP has missed the opportunity to send the right message to its public, to its players and — above all — to its officials.“Umpires need to be protected in their workplace,” Ings said. “Player abuse of officials is growing based on recent incidents, and this soft sanction will do nothing to deter future misconduct.” More