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    Roger Federer’s Absence Leaves a Void at Wimbledon

    Federer said he hoped to return to the tournament he has won eight times before. His absence from the field this year left a void over Wimbledon’s early rounds.WIMBLEDON, England — There he was, a surprise, perhaps the biggest of this Wimbledon fortnight: Roger Federer in the flesh Sunday on Centre Court.As always, he looked handsome and freshly pressed. But instead of his tennis whites, Federer wore a trim, dark suit to to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Centre Court.Flanked by a slew of past Wimbledon champions, Federer was on hand only briefly, but no player received a louder greeting. Not Bjorn Borg. Not Venus Williams. Not Rod Laver or Billie Jean King, not Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.For the first time since 1998, when he announced himself to the tennis world by winning the junior event, Federer is not playing Wimbledon. At age 40, he’s still rehabbing after surgery on his right knee and is unsure of his playing future.“I’ve been lucky enough to play a lot of matches on this court,” Federer said, speaking into a microphone, his voice ringing across the court. He added, “It feels awkward to be here today in a different type of role.”He continued for a short while, bathing in the warm adoration, taking in the old stadium and its memories. “This court has given me my biggest wins, my biggest losses,” he said.“I hope I can come back one more time.”The fans sitting around me at Centre Court went nuts.And then Federer was gone.Wimbledon 2022 has been a strange journey. Instead of the usual electric energy coursing through each day, signaling the peak of the tennis season and the start of the English summer, the feel has been slightly off — like a master violinist struggling for just the right note.During the opening four days, attendance dropped to levels not seen in over a decade. The barring of Russians and Belarusians robbed the tournament of several marquee names, including the world’s top-ranked male, Daniil Medvedev. Their exclusion caused protests by the men’s and women’s tours, which decided not to officially recognize the results with ranking points, essentially turning the entire affair into the most lavish tennis exhibition ever held.Those are some mighty blows.But there’s something else that feels off about this Wimbledon.Instead of charging into the tournament’s second week as the men’s favorite and the fans’ hoped-for winner at a tournament where he is worshiped like a god, Federer floated in for the centennial celebration and then was scheduled to jet back home to Switzerland.The tournament goes on. But a Wimbledon without Federer is like a Wimbledon where there are strawberries but no cream.How do you explain the power of absence? Maybe through the shock of looking at the men’s draw and not seeing the most familiar name. Or through a fan’s shout, such as the one that came out loud and true, expressing palpable longing during a prime-time match last week.“Is that Roger Federer?” someone yelled, the voice ringing across Court No. 1 during a tense late-night match between two guys, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios, who could offer only a glimpse of the grace Federer brought to every match at Wimbledon.The yell was aimed at Tsitsipas, of Greece, whose one-handed backhand and flowing strokes call to mind the eight-time champion.Close is not the real thing. Tsitsipas is no Federer.There are no guarantees that Federer will ever play here again, though we now know that he hopes to. “I think maybe there’s a little magic left,” said Tony Godsick, Federer’s longtime agent, as we walked the grounds last week.“I’m not sure that magic means having to hold up a trophy,” Godsick added. “Magic means going out on your own terms, being healthy, and enjoying it.” He looked out at one of the grass courts. “There will be places where he’ll be able to do better just because of the nature of the surface,” he said. “But if it doesn’t happen, he gave everything.”The deep, even ethereal connection Federer has with this vine-covered Taj Mahal of tennis is about more than longevity.Part of it is style. Wimbledon is white linen, polished gold, light cotton fineries, ascots and the Duke and Duchess of Kent in the royal box. Everything about the refined Federer fits this palace, from his old-school game to the gliding way he walks.Part of it is substance: the fine art of victory. Federer was the champion in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2017.Part of it is losing, but weathering the storm in the right way.For a while, the Swiss player seemed like he might never be conquered on the low-cut grass. Then came Nadal. When Nadal finally beat Federer in the final in 2008, their match was regarded as one of the greatest ever played. Who can forget Federer’s comeback, his saved match points and Nadal’s unquenchable desire? The match ended in the dwindling sunlight, 9-7 in the fifth set, with Federer shedding tears of agony.Federer’s Wimbledon final against Novak Djokovic in 2019 was perhaps the last great match of Federer’s career.Nic Bothma/EPA, via ShutterstockHe suddenly seemed vulnerable, human, within reach. Showing weakness at a tournament he had owned for five straight summers, and handling it with grace, made Federer more popular than ever.To the fervently loyal fans of Nadal and Djokovic, he was the perfect foil, the one to root most lustily against, the one player they most wanted to defeat and send off with head bowed.In the last great match we saw him play at Wimbledon, possibly the last great match of his career, the marathon championship final of 2019, Federer held two match points while serving against Djokovic. The Serb won both, tracking down the last of them by skimming across the baseline and, as he so often does, producing a winning passing shot. About an hour later, he won the match, 13-12, in a fifth-set tiebreaker.Watching Djokovic play on Centre Court last week, it was impossible not to think of that classic. There he was again, the defending champion, dashing across the same baseline with the same staunch resolve as when he snatched victory from his longtime rival. Djokovic may well win this year’s tournament, which would give him seven Wimbledon titles overall. But other than among his loyal fans — and yes, there are many — watching him plow through opponents with metronomic efficiency and tight-lipped swagger does not quite stir the soul.He is a marvel, all right. So is a microwave oven.Then I watched Jannik Sinner of Italy, 20, who is little known outside tennis but regarded as a potential future force within it. Sinner may not win Wimbledon this year, but there’s a good chance he will one day.On Sunday, against another precocious talent, 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, Sinner hit his forehands with a consistent mix of heavy speed and daring curve. He added aces, drop shots and deep returns. The crowd on Centre Court swayed and swooned with his every move.It felt reminiscent of the energy surrounding a certain Swiss player at the start of his great Wimbledon career. It was a reminder of the way greatness gives way to greatness, one generation to the next — and a reminder that Federer was not on hand to help keep youth at bay. Not this year, at least. Maybe next. More

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    Tennis Tours Penalize Wimbledon Over Ban on Russian Players

    PARIS — The men’s and women’s tennis tours responded to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players on Friday by stripping the event of ranking points this year, the most significant rebuke to date of efforts by global sports organizations to ostracize individual Russian athletes as punishment for their country’s invasion of Ukraine.It is a move without precedent in tennis, and without the points, Wimbledon, the oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments, will technically be an exhibition event, bringing no ranking boost to those who excel on its pristine lawns this year.“The ability for players of any nationality to enter tournaments based on merit, and without discrimination is fundamental to our Tour,” the ATP said in a statement, saying that the ban undermined its ranking system.The International Tennis Federation, a governing body that operates separately from the tours, also announced it would remove ranking points from the junior and wheelchair events at Wimbledon this year.Though Wimbledon, for now, is the only one of the four major tournaments to ban Russians and Belarusians, the power play by the tours could lead to countermeasures, including the possibility of Grand Slam events considering an alternative ranking system or aligning to make more decisions independently of the tours.Organizers of Wimbledon, a grass-court tournament and British cultural institution that begins on June 27, announced the ban on Russian and Belarusian players last month in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which was undertaken with the support of Belarus. Other British grass-court tournaments that are staged in June, including the Wimbledon prep events at Eastbourne and at Queen’s Club in London, have announced similar bans.So have sports as diverse as soccer, auto racing, track and field and ice hockey. Russia has been stripped of the hosting rights to events and has seen its teams ejected from major competitions like soccer’s World Cup. But only a few sports, notably figure skating and track and field, have barred individual athletes from Russia and Belarus from competing.Both tours condemned the invasion of Ukraine but argued that individual athletes should not be prevented from competing, in the words of WTA chief executive Steve Simon, “solely because of their nationalities or the decisions made by the governments of their countries.”But Sergiy Stakohvsky, a recently retired Ukrainian men’s player now in the Ukrainian military, expressed bitterness at the decision, calling it a “shameful day in tennis” in a post on Twitter.Standing by its ban, Wimbledon expressed “deep disappointment” and said stripping points was “disproportionate” in light of the pressure it was under from the British government.The ATP’s and WTA’s move was made after extensive internal debate and despite considerable pushback from players. A sizable group of men’s and women’s players was gathering support for a petition in favor of retaining Wimbledon’s points before the tours made their announcements. But removing the points is expected to have little effect on the tournament’s bottom line.The world’s top players who are not from Russia and Belarus are still expected to participate. Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1 men’s player from Serbia and a six-time Wimbledon champion, made it clear on Sunday after winning the Italian Open in Rome that he would not support skipping the event in protest even if he remained against the decision to bar the Russian and Belarusian players.“A boycott is a very aggressive thing,” Djokovic said. “There are much better solutions.”This year’s Wimbledon champions will still play in front of big crowds, lift the same trophies hoisted by their predecessors and have their names inscribed on the honor roll posted inside the clubhouse of the All England Club. They will be considered Grand Slam champions although it remains unclear whether Wimbledon will maintain prize money at its usual levels.Stripping points will have consequences on the sport’s pecking order. Daniil Medvedev, a Russian ranked No. 2, is now in excellent position to displace No. 1 Novak Djokovic after Wimbledon because Djokovic’s 2,000 points for winning Wimbledon last year will come off his total without being replaced. Medvedev, who reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year, will only lose 180 points.The leadership of the ATP, including its player council, which includes stars like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, ultimately decided that it was important to dissuade tournaments from barring players — now or in the future — based on political concerns.“How do you draw the line of when you ban players and when you don’t?” Yevgeny Kafelnikov, a Russian and a former No. 1 singles player, said in a telephone interview from Moscow.Unlike Wimbledon, the lead-in events in Britain have retained their ranking points despite being formally part of the tours. Wimbledon, as a Grand Slam event, operates independently but does have agreements with the tours on many levels. But the ATP and WTA chose not to strip points from the British lead-in events because other European tournaments were still open to Russian and Belarusian players during those three weeks of the season. The WTA did announce that it was putting the British tour events in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne on probation because of the ban.Russia-Ukraine War: Key DevelopmentsCard 1 of 4Russia’s punishment of Finland. More

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    In Tennis, Racket Smashing Gets Out of Hand

    Long accepted as an entertaining idiosyncrasy of the sport, the act of hurling one’s racket has led to some close calls, as ball people and chair umpires dodge injury.After blowing a golden opportunity to break his opponent’s serve late in the second set of his match on Monday at the Miami Open, Jenson Brooksby, the rising American star, whacked his foot with his racket several times in frustration.It was progress for Brooksby, who earlier in the tournament had escaped an automatic disqualification that many tennis veterans — and his opponent — thought was justified after he angrily hurled his racket to the court and it skittered into the feet of a ball person standing behind the baseline.Gets away with it. #Brooksby pic.twitter.com/QGRFA5Uy5w— Tennis GIFs 🎾🎥 (@tennis_gifs) March 24, 2022
    A week earlier, Nick Kyrgios, the temperamental Australian, narrowly missed hitting a ball boy in the face when he flung his racket to the ground following a three-set loss in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif. The ATP punished Kyrgios with a $20,000 fine and another $5,000 for uttering an obscenity on the court, but he was allowed to play a few days later in Miami.Kyrgios was at it again on Tuesday during his fourth-round match against Italy’s Jannik Sinner. He threw his racket to the court on his way to losing a first-set tiebreaker, prompting a warning and a point penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct as he shouted at the umpire, Carlos Bernardes. Then, during the changeover, he battered his racket four times against the ground, earning a game penalty.“Do we have to wait until someone starts bleeding?” an exasperated Patrick McEnroe, the former pro and tennis commentator, said recently when asked about the flying rackets.Racket-smashing tantrums have long been accepted as part of the game. Like hockey fights, they are a way for players to blow off steam. But as the broader culture becomes less tolerant of public displays of anger, and with an increasing number of close calls on the court, racket smashing suddenly no longer seems like an entertaining idiosyncrasy.Mary Carillo, the former player and longtime commentator, said the tantrums have never been worse, especially on the ATP Tour, calling them “the most consistently uncomfortable thing to watch.” But chair umpires still resist meting out the most serious punishment.“The reason for conspicuous leniency is that they have to somehow keep a match alive; there are no substitutions,” Carillo said of the chair umpires. “Tennis players, especially tennis stars, know they have incontestable leverage over the chair.”Alexander Zverev smashed his racket on the umpire’s chair after losing a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February.MexTenis, via Associated PressLike most people in tennis, McEnroe was stunned when the ATP recently handed down a suspended eight-week ban to Alexander Zverev, who repeatedly beat on the umpire’s chair at the end of a doubles match at the Mexican Open in February, coming with inches of cracking his racket into the official’s feet.Psychologists have found that expressing anger physically tends to hurt performance and can encourage subsequent outbursts. In an oft-cited 1959 study by the psychologist R.H. Hornberger, participants listened to insults before being divided into two groups. One group pounded nails. The other sat quietly. The group that pounded nails was far more hostile to those who criticized them.And yet these days, racket smashing feels contagious. There was Naomi Osaka’s display during her third-round loss to Leylah Fernandez at the U.S. Open last year. Novak Djokovic’s during the bronze medal match at the Tokyo Olympics. Even Roger Federer has had his moments. Rafael Nadal, by contrast, is famously gentle with his equipment and has said he never will smash his racket.Even Andy Roddick, the former world No. 1, got cheeky on the subject, taking to Twitter last week with a tongue-in-cheek tutorial on how to safely smash a racket and whack a ball without endangering anyone.Smashing and throwing a racket, not to mention swats of the ball — that hit, or nearly hit, and possibly injure people on the court or in the stadium — fall under equipment abuse in the sport’s rule books. To the frustration of some of the biggest names in tennis, those codes are more gray than black and white.Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion who is covering the Miami Open for Tennis Channel, expressed the sentiments of many after Brooksby’s racket made contact with the ball person.“If it hit the ball boy, they need to disqualify him,” she said.Brooksby and Kyrgios lost in Miami on Tuesday, but Zverev advanced to the quarterfinals and has a good chance of winning one of the top titles on the ATP Tour, even though some in tennis believe he should be on the sidelines serving a suspension.A spokesman for the ATP, which does not publicly discuss individual penalties, said Brooksby received a $15,000 fine, $5,000 less than the maximum $20,000 a player can receive for an incident from tournament officials. That amounted to less than half of the $30,130 he guaranteed himself by winning the match, and the $94,575 he ultimately collected for making it to the fourth round.Kyrgios was fined $20,000 for nearly hitting the ball boy following his loss to Nadal at Indian Wells, where he collected nearly $180,000 for making the quarterfinals. He, too, will earn, $94,575 in Miami, less whatever fines he receives for his behavior on Tuesday.Zverev, who has earned more than $30 million in career prize money, had to forfeit his earnings from the Mexican Open, and the ATP fined him $65,000, but the suspended ban has allowed him — in less than two tournaments — to more than triple in prize money what his outburst cost him.The ATP is considering whether, given recent increases in prize money, an increase in fines could deter players. Fines for racket abuse on the ATP Tour begin at $500, compared with $2,500 on the WTA Tour.Other than that, the codes for men and women are similar: No violently hitting or kicking or throwing a racket — or any piece of equipment for that matter, and no physical abuse or attempted abuse against ball people, umpires, judges or spectators.Still, tennis officials have a somewhat ambiguous understanding of when disqualification is warranted. It goes sort of like this: If you throw a racket, or whack a ball at someone intentionally in an attempt to hit or intimidate them, then you are automatically disqualified, whether you succeed or fail. However, if you throw or smash a racket or whack a ball without consideration of its direction, and it ends up hitting someone, then tournament officials have to assess whether an injury has occurred.If someone is indeed injured, as when Djokovic inadvertently hit a line judge in the throat at the 2020 U.S. Open, the player is automatically disqualified. But if no one is injured, as when Brooksby’s racket skittered into the ball person’s foot, the umpires will assess a penalty and tournament officials will fine the player — no disqualification necessary.Both Brooksby and Zverev quickly posted apologies for their actions on social media and personally apologized to the people involved. “I was grateful to have a second chance,” Brooksby told Tennis Channel on Monday.Kyrgios is a repeat offender. In a news conference following the Indian Wells match, he berated journalists who questioned him about the racket toss that nearly clipped a ball boy’s head, and was unapologetic.“It most definitely wasn’t like Zverev,” he said. “It was complete accident. I didn’t hit him.”Only after an avalanche of criticism on social media did Kyrgios issue an apology. The next day, he posted a video of himself giving the boy a racket.Following his match on Tuesday, Kyrgios played the victim, criticizing Bernardes for speaking to the crowd while Kyrgios was trying to serve. He seemed not to understand why the ATP had come down so hard on him for the incident at Indian Wells, given, he said, that Dennis Shapovalov had inadvertently hit a fan with a ball and received just a $5,000 fine. In fact, Shapovalov hit a chair umpire and was fined $7,000.“I can throw a racket at Indian Wells,” Kyrgios said, “didn’t even hit anyone, and I’m getting 25 grand.” More

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

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

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    Daniil Medvedev Intrudes on the Big Four’s No. 1 Perch

    After nearly two decades of four men trading places at tennis’s top slot, Russia’s Medvedev put an end to their reign on Monday.Daniil Medvedev was 7 years old and living with his family in Moscow when Roger Federer rose to No. 1 in the ATP rankings on Feb. 2, 2004.There was no suspecting it then, but Federer’s achievement was the start of an extraordinary period of tennis domination by a small group of men who came to be known as the Big Four.Together, Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and, to a lesser degree, Andy Murray hoarded the Grand Slam singles titles and the regular tour’s most prestigious titles, taking turns at No. 1 for more than 18 years.On Monday, Medvedev, a lanky 26-year-old Russian with a technique that is far from orthodox, will finally put an end to the Big Four’s numerical dominance, displacing Djokovic at No. 1.“These guys have been amazing,” said Paul Annacone, the veteran coach and Tennis Channel analyst who once coached Federer.Medvedev’s timing on the court is amazing, too: It creates wonderment at how someone whose long limbs seem to be flying in such contradictory directions can make such clean contact again and again.But his timing in reaching No. 1 is not nearly so close to perfection.Nadal, not Medvedev, is the ATP’s hottest player: resurgent at age 35 and 15-0 in 2022 after rallying to defeat Medvedev in a classic five-set Australian Open final and then defeating him again last week in much more straightforward fashion on his way to another title in Acapulco, Mexico.Medvedev also has benefited from Djokovic essentially sidelining himself because of his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, which led to his deportation from Australia ahead of the Australian Open and is expected to keep him out of the prestigious American tournaments in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami next month.Then there is the issue of Medvedev’s nationality. The wider world is not much in the mood to celebrate Russia or Russian athletic achievements at the moment. The country’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine has sparked outrage, protests and international sanctions, and even before the invasion, there were hints of crowds turning against Medvedev.During his quarterfinal victory over Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada at the Australian Open, a fan at Rod Laver Arena shouted, “Do it for Ukraine, Felix!”But Medvedev has spoken out against the war since it began on Feb. 24.“By being a tennis player I want to promote peace all over the world,” he said in Acapulco. “We play in so many different countries. I’ve been in so many countries as a junior and as a pro.”He added: “It’s just not easy to hear all this news. I’m all for peace.”Medvedev’s next tournament is scheduled to be next month’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where some players are already planning to show support for Ukraine by wearing outfits that feature blue and yellow, the colors of Ukraine’s national flag.On Sunday, just hours before he officially became the No. 1-ranked men’s singles player, Medvedev made another plea, this time on social media.“Today I want to speak on behalf of every kid in the world,” he said. “They all have dreams. Their life is just starting, so many nice experiences to come: first friends, first great emotions. Everything they feel and see is for the first time in their lives. That’s why I want to ask for peace in the world, for peace between countries. Kids are born with inner trust in the world, they believe so much in everything: in people, in love, in safety and justice, in their chances in life. Let’s be together and show them that it’s true, cause every kid shouldn’t stop dreaming.”Medvedev, like many leading Russian players, moved abroad in his teens to further his tennis career. While his Russian contemporaries Andrey Rublev, 24, and Karen Khachanov, 25, landed in Spain, Medvedev went to southern France and now lives in Monte Carlo, long a sunny and tax-friendly base for tennis stars.He has been coached by the Frenchman Gilles Cervara since 2016 and speaks fluent French and English — useful skills in a global sport with post-match news conferences and interviews.But Medvedev, by turns endearing and alienating, is hardly a typical tennis ambassador. He has taunted and criticized crowds when they have turned against him, and he was fined in Australia last month for a tirade against a chair umpire for not policing the coaching that Medvedev believed his opponent, Stefanos Tsitsipas, was receiving illegally during the match from his father, Apostolos.Tsitsipas was indeed warned for a coaching violation later in the match, but Medvedev, who had called the chair umpire “stupid” and, more cryptically, “a small cat,” was apologetic, as he often is after, in his own words, “losing my mind.”“I regret it all the time, because I don’t think it’s nice; I know that every referee is trying to do their best,” he said in Melbourne. “Tennis, you know, we don’t fight with the fists, but tennis is a fight. It’s a one-on-one against another player, so I’m actually really respectful to players who never, almost never, show their emotions because it’s tough. Because I get and can get really emotional. I have been working on it.”Medvedev may be No. 1, but Rafael Nadal, left, is the hottest player on the tour. Nadal has a 15-0 record i 2022, including a win over Medvedev at the Mexican Open this month.Eduardo Verdugo/Associated PressMedvedev has a performance psychologist, the Frenchwoman Francisca Dauzet, on his team, and despite his outbursts in Melbourne, his on-court behavior has much improved from his earlier, more combustible years on tour. It has been quite an unexpected journey to the summit, and Medvedev is the 27th man to reach the top spot since the ATP computer rankings began in 1973. He is also the tallest at 6-foot-6: a reflection of the increase in average height among the men’s tennis elite.Unlike the members of the Big Four, he is not yet a true multi-surface threat: his best results have come on hardcourts. But he clearly has the skills to thrive on grass. Unsurprisingly, the towering Medvedev has a big serve, which he overhauled several years ago, that has been essential to his rise. But what separates him from the tennis giants of the past is his mobility and ability to thrive in extended rallies, often camped far behind the baseline. His groundstrokes, ungainly at first (and second) glance, are unusually flat, staying low off the bounce and often depriving opponents of the chance to attack from their comfort zones.With his reach, speed and anticipation, he is a world-class defender, but he can also up the tempo by striking the ball early and making surprise moves into the forecourt. Just when an opponent may think he has Medvedev figured out, he changes tactics — and, after winning his first major title at last year’s U.S. Open by stopping Djokovic’s bid for a Grand Slam, Medvedev has now ended Djokovic’s latest run at No. 1 and the Big Four’s even-longer run at the top.Whatever the timing, that is quite a feat. More

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

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

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

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

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    Is Tennis Moving Into a New Golden Age? We Can Only Hope.

    It will be hard to let go of aging stars like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, and troubled ones like Novak Djokovic. But the time is coming, if it is not already here.There was something for everyone. Roger Federer’s linen grace. Rafael Nadal’s punishing power. Novak Djokovic and his single-minded determination. The unwavering way Serena Williams dismantled tired tradition.For two decades, professional tennis bathed in the golden glow provided by an unalterable hierarchy of players with distinctive styles and personalities that combined to define the game in the 21st century.But time, and the coronavirus, changes everything.For the second major championship in a row, as the Australian Open plays out in searing Melbourne heat, Federer and Williams find themselves at home, healing from injuries at age 40. We may never see them play top-flight tennis again.Gone, too, of course, is Djokovic.It’s unclear when the world No. 1 will return to major championship play, and how the scorn of fans will affect a player who has spent his career yearning for adoration. Depending on how the pandemic unfolds, tennis’s most famed vaccine refusenik could end up barred from traveling to the countries hosting the year’s biggest tournaments, imperiling his quest to break well past the 20 Grand Slam logjam he is in with Federer and Nadal.Of the golden quartet, only Nadal made his way to Melbourne. A well-worn 35, he is coming off a foot injury that kept him out of the mix for most of last year.He looked sharp during the Australian’s early stanza, perhaps good enough to summon greatness again and raise the championship trophy for a second time. Even if he does, how much longer can the Nadal we have known be the Nadal we revere?What in tennis can be counted on anymore?Nothing.The days when the game could lean on the showstopping power of its rock star quartet to lure fans and add excitement — the days of penciling them in as locks to make at least the semifinals of every major title — those days are done.Remember when Naomi Osaka was supposed to be the next big thing? Right now, her last major title win, the Australian Open last winter, seems in this time-warped stretch as if it occurred a decade rather than a year ago.She left last year’s French Open midstream, using the occasion to open up about the anxiety and depression sitting heavy on her shoulders. She skipped Wimbledon, needing time away from the grind and glare. She lost early at the U.S. Open and the Tokyo Olympics. Last week, Osaka’s bid to repeat at Melbourne ended at the hands of the world’s 60th-ranked player.Remember Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez, the upstart teenagers who electrified last summer’s U.S. Open by making the women’s finals? Neither has done much since. Fernandez lost in the first round last week. Raducanu got tossed off in the second.Maybe there’s a silver lining in the game’s newfound uncertainty. Free of the shadow cast by the biggest stars, it’s easier to gain enthusiasm for a wider cast.During the initial week at Melbourne Park, that meant marveling at Amanda Anisimova, 20, as she ripped backhand winners past Osaka in an upset win. Or watching Carlos Alcaraz, 18, sprint, slide and stretch to keep a point alive before suddenly hauling off and smacking a full-throttle winner.Uncertainty provided more shine to the young Italian Jannik Sinner, as stunningly gifted an upstart as there is, as he pressed his way through the draw.Ashleigh Barty in action during her fourth-round match against Amanda Anisimova.Asanka Brendon Ratnayake/ReutersIt put more focus on Ashleigh Barty, last year’s Wimbledon champion, possessor of the smoothest game this side of Federer.Will Daniil Medvedev, who crushed Djokovic’s Grand Slam dreams by beating the Serb to win the 2021 U.S. Open, wrest away the world No. 1 ranking? What happens if he becomes one of the game’s consistent standard-bearers?In Melbourne last week, Medvedev flashed his quirky and almost unfathomable game. Several of his strokes look as if they were self-taught and honed at a craggy public park by playing with duffers — the reflex volley with one hand on the racket’s throat, the gawky forehand that sometimes ends with legs splayed and a strangulating follow-through.As Medvedev often has at Flushing Meadows, he showed he can be an engaging champion — witty, open and more than willing to play the villain with a wink.This year, the typically rowdy Australian Open crowd has been using Cristiano Ronaldo’s famed “Siuuu!” celebration shout during matches. That has angered several players, Medvedev included, who thought the chants were boos during his victory over Nick Kyrgios. As we might expect based on his past shenanigans at the U.S. Open, Medvedev raised hackles from the crowd when he scolded them for the chant in an on-court interview.He later explained with his customary willingness to draw ire: “It’s not everybody who is doing it. But those who are doing it probably have a low I.Q.”Imagine Federer saying such a thing about fans. Impossible. But maybe that’s a good and energizing change.It is difficult to let go of a generation.A new era has arrived. All we can do is embrace it, wait patiently, and hope for the best. More