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    Nadal Reaches French Open Final on Zverev’s Abrupt Injury

    Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev had taken more than three hours to get toward the end of a second set. Then Zverev twisted his right ankle and had to stop.PARIS — Sweat dripping off their faces as the grueling rallies piled up, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev played for more than three hours in the Paris humidity and appeared set, whether they liked it or not, to play for hours more.Égalité, the French word for deuce, began to sound more like a mantra than the score as the chair umpire kept repeating it, game after close game.But then suddenly, this French Open semifinal, which looked ready to run and run, came to an abrupt and painful halt as Zverev, the tall and lanky German star, rolled his right ankle chasing a Nadal forehand late in the second set.Zverev screamed, released his racket and tumbled to the red clay. Nadal who had just won the point, quickly stopped pumping his fist and crossed to Zverev’s side of the net and stood nearby. He was somber as Zverev was helped to his feet and carted off the Philippe Chatrier Court in a wheelchair in tears for treatment and examination.It was tough to observe and surely much tougher to experience for a 25-year-old man like Zverev who was within range of his first Grand Slam title and the No. 1 ranking.Several minutes later, he reappeared on crutches, his right foot bare and his eyes red from crying, with Nadal walking by his side, to inform the chair umpire that he was retiring with Nadal leading, 7-6 (8), 6-6.Nadal, already a 13-time French Open champion, is back in the final at Roland Garros, which has come to feel like a Parisian rite of spring. But this was certainly not the way he wanted to celebrate victory on his 36th birthday.“Of course, for me, as everybody knows, being in the final of Roland Garros one more time is a dream without a doubt,” Nadal said in his on-court interview. “But at the same time, to finish that way, I have been there in the small room with Sascha before we came back on court, and to see him crying there is a very tough moment. So just all the best to him and all the team.”Nadal, who first won the French Open at 19 in 2005, is now the oldest men’s singles finalist at Roland Garros since Bill Tilden in 1930. Nadal could become the oldest man ever to win the title if he defeats the No. 8 seed, Casper Ruud, on Sunday.Ruud, 23, became the first Norwegian man to reach a Grand Slam singles final with a victory, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2, over No. 20 Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion who has been resurgent in Paris at age 33.The match was interrupted for about 15 minutes when a young protester attached herself to the net during the sixth game of the third set. In a statement, the French Tennis Federation said that “the security team needed to formally identify the objects she used to get onto the court before they could remove her.”Both players left the court, but when they returned, Ruud, the more natural clay-court master, maintained control as Cilic’s unforced-error count kept climbing.It will be the first meeting on tour for Ruud and Nadal, but they know each other well. Ruud has trained regularly at Nadal’s academy in Mallorca for several years, and Nadal has been his inspiration for his skill, sportsmanship and combative spirit.“He’s been my idol for all my life,” said Ruud, who has played numerous practice sets with Nadal.Asked how many of Nadal’s 13 French Open finals he had watched, he replied, “probably all of them,” reeling off the names of most of his opponents.Ruud, whose father and coach, Christian, is a former professional player, had not been past the fourth round in a Grand Slam tournament until now. He rose into the top 10 last year for the first time on the strength of his victories in regular tour events.But he took full advantage of his spot in the more welcoming bottom half of the men’s draw in this French Open and now will try to do what no man has ever managed defeat Nadal in a French Open final.“It might sound like an impossible task. But of course I will give it a shot like the other 13 people before me,” Ruud said. “We all know what a great champion he is and how well he plays in the biggest moments and the biggest matches. I’m just going to try to enjoy it. I will be the underdog, and I will try to tonight and tomorrow night dream about great winners and unbelievable rallies, because that’s what it’s going to take if I want to have any chance, and I will need to play my best tennis ever.”Nadal managed to come through the gantlet in the top half, defeating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round in five sets and then ripping his forehand with vintage depth and precision in the quarterfinals to defeat his longtime rival Novak Djokovic.The third-seeded Zverev, who had played some of his finest and gutsiest tennis in a quarterfinal victory over the Spanish teenager Carlos Alcaraz, was another big hurdle, all the more so under a closed center-court roof that traps the humidity — call it the greenhouse effect — on a rainy day like Friday.The heavy conditions keep Nadal’s extreme topspin from kicking quite so high off the clay, but he adapted by using slices and drop shots to bring Zverev forward out of his comfort zone.“Lots of people think incorrectly that slow conditions are better for clay-court specialists,” Nadal said. “But it’s quite the contrary. Slower conditions and heavier balls favor the guy who hits it flatter with the more direct strokes..”The lack of wind under cover also helps a powerful server like Zverev. At 6-foot-6, he has one of the best first serves in the game (the second one is quite a bit shakier), and he had beaten Nadal in three of their four previous encounters, two of them indoors.But Zverev, for all his evident talent and his Olympic gold medal from Tokyo last year, has yet to beat Nadal or the other members of the Big Three — Djokovic and Roger Federer — in a Grand Slam tournament in which singles matches are best-of-five sets instead of best-of-three.“He started the match playing amazing,” Nadal said. “I know how much it means to him, to fight to win his first Grand Slam.”The first set was one of the closest and longest imaginable in the tiebreaker format, lasting 91 minutes with breaks of serve and extended rallies the rule. Nadal was dripping sweat after just a few games, and the set would have ended much more quickly if Zverev had been able to convert more of the big opportunities he created with his serving and phenomenal two-handed backhand that Nadal termed “probably the best in the game.” (Others would surely still vote for Djokovic’s two-hander.)But Zverev’s finishing skills, particularly in the forecourt and at the net, are still hit or miss. Serving at 4-3 and up a break, Zverev moved forward to put away a short forehand and clubbed it wide as his racket slipped out of his hand to face a break point, which he lost by missing another short ball.It was a big opportunity squandered and hardly the last. Up 6-2 in the tiebreaker, Zverev failed to convert four set points as Nadal rallied and closed out the set on his sixth set point with a fast-twitch forehand passing shot winner down the line that left even Nadal standing statue-still for a moment in surprise. The shot also left a few spectators, most of whom were Nadalites on Friday, with both hands on their heads in disbelief.It was a big finish to an up-and-down set, and to Zverev’s credit, he got right back to work and to pushing Nadal to his considerable limits from the baseline. One exchange in the third game of the second set lasted 44 strokes before Zverev cracked. After just over three hours of play, Zverev was on the cusp of another tiebreaker, but there would be no more tennis in this match after his injury.It remains unclear how badly injured Zverev is or how long he will be out of the game: Wimbledon begins in little more than three weeks. But there is no doubt what comes next for Nadal: a chance at No. 14 against a Norwegian of all things.Endure long enough and all sorts of surprises await. More

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    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Retires From Tennis After First-Round Loss at French Open

    Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has retired from tennis after a first-round loss at the French Open, marking the end of a generation of his countrymen.PARIS — Farewells can be particularly tricky for aging tennis players. Part of the professional game’s Darwinian appeal is that there is no place to hide. There is no exiting the arena gracefully through substitution, no convincing manner to mask the erosion of skills and speed.It is you and the opponent, probably younger, healthier and better if you are, like Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Tuesday, on the brink of retirement.But Tsonga, the most successful French player of his close-but-no-major French generation, was not exactly alone on the main Philippe Chatrier Court as he faced the No. 8 seed, Casper Ruud of Norway.Tsonga, 37 and with a body that most likely feels older, announced in April that this French Open would be his final tournament, which meant that the French crowd was well prepared to give him his due in this first-round match.The grand and renovated stadium was barely half full when Tsonga walked onto the red clay in the early afternoon after wiping tears from his eyes in the tunnel. Lunch remains a priority for Tsonga’s compatriots. But thousands more French fans eventually found their seats and rose to the occasion, in part because Tsonga rose to it himself, even in defeat.Tsonga during his final match.James Hill for The New York Times“It was difficult because I came on the court already in quite an emotional state,” Tsonga said after Ruud’s victory, 6-7 (6), 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (0). “I said to myself, ‘Wait, this is not the time to crack. You have to go for it. You have to play. You wanted to be here. You wanted to fight until the last ball.’”Clay has long been Ruud’s best surface. He can run and run. Tsonga, a former Australian Open finalist and French Open semifinalist now ranked No. 297, has not been a major threat on any surface for several years because of injuries.“Give me back my legs,” he yelled in frustration as he lost in the first round to Alex Molcan last week at the Lyon Open in France.But with Tuesday as a target, he found inspiration, and though logic suggested that he had no business pushing Ruud to the limit, he came surprisingly, poignantly close. He won the opening set, nearly won the second and then roused himself in the fourth with Ruud close to victory and Tsonga close to a bigger finish line.He broke Ruud’s serve to take a 6-5 lead in the fourth, generating one of the biggest roars he has generated in nearly 20 years of playing at Roland Garros. But he injured his right shoulder on a big forehand in the process and was unable to do much more than push the ball into play the rest of the way, tearing up as he prepared to serve the final point of his career at 0-6 in the tiebreaker. He was not alone in the tears.It was a farewell match that Tsonga acknowledged symbolized, in many ways, his 18-year career.The crowd held up his portrait as it tried to start a Mexican wave.James Hill for The New York Times“There was drama. There was injury. There was a very tough opponent on the other side of the net, because that also has been part of my career,” he said. “I think I have faced some incredible players all the way through.”That is undeniable. At 37, he is three years younger than Roger Federer and two years older than Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. It is telling that Tsonga’s highest ranking was No. 5. Though he has beaten them all multiple times on the strength of his huge serve and forehand and attacking skills, they all have, more often than not, stolen his thunder through the years, exploiting his much weaker backhand wing. Djokovic was the first: defeating him in Tsonga’s only Grand Slam singles final at the 2008 Australian Open.At the time, with his foot speed, forehand and youth, it seemed self-evident that Tsonga would experience more such occasions. Instead, he had to settle for five more Grand Slam semifinals: one at the Australian Open, two at Wimbledon and two at the French Open, the last in 2015 when Stan Wawrinka, another great talent from Tsonga’s era, beat him in four sets on his way to the championship.In all, Tsonga would win 18 singles titles on the regular tour, 14 of them in the lowest ATP 250 category and two of them in the highest Masters 1000 category.It was enough to make him the most successful French men’s player of the Open era after Yannick Noah, who, dreadlocks flying, rushed the net to win the French Open in 1983 and is still waiting for another Frenchman to follow his lead to victory.Noah, whose mother was French and father was from Cameroon, is now 62 and back living on his family’s property in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital, where he spent his early years. As a new documentary makes clear, he remains an enduring source of fascination in France and did his part through the years as Davis Cup captain and French federation consultant to inspire his successors.Tsonga kissed the court after the match.James Hill for The New York TimesThere have been world-class talents but no Grand Slam singles champions: not Guy Forget or Henri Leconte; not Cedric Pioline, Sebastien Grosjean or Arnaud Clement. And not Tsonga’s generation that includes Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet and Gaël Monfils and was long ago called the New Musketeers in a nod to the four Musketeers whose Davis Cup victory over the Americans in 1927 led to the hasty construction of Roland Garros stadium so the French would have a worthy setting to host the Davis Cup final in 1928.Tsonga, who once boarded inside the stadium complex as an aspiring junior, is the first of the new Musketeers to retire, although he will soon have company. Simon, also 37, has announced that he will join him at the end of the year and is also playing his final French Open.Simon, Gasquet and Monfils were all on hand for Tsonga’s farewell on Tuesday. After the match and after Tsonga had dropped to the clay and given it a kiss, they joined his parents; wife, Noura; two young children; and coaches from all phases of his career on the court where Tsonga’s generation has often shined but, despite its sobriquet, never lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires.Tsonga, tennis’s newest retiree, had bigger immediate concerns. He could barely lift his right arm, but he looked fulfilled. “I’m proud of myself,” he confirmed. “I gave it all.”Tsonga, center with his old trainers; his fellow French players, including Monfils and Gasquet; and family during the ceremony.James Hill for The New York Times More

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    The Future of Tennis, Carlos Alcaraz, Has Arrived

    The 18-year-old Spaniard recently aced two significant American tournaments, reaching the semifinals at Indian Wells and winning the Miami Open.MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In a decade or so, after Carlos Alcaraz has piled up the Grand Slam tournament trophies, a four-week stretch in early 2022 may stand out as the time he took over tennis.Over the last month, in tennis’ annual first-quarter pilgrimage to the United States, Alcaraz, 18, of Spain, ceased to be an up-and-comer.At the two most significant American tennis tournaments other than the U.S. Open, the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., and the Miami Open, he made clear that he is not the future; he is the now. With each round this weekend in Florida, the gasps at his cracking forehands and the chants of “Vamonos” and “Let’s go, Carlos” echoed more loudly at a stadium displaying plenty of Spanish flags.On Sunday, Alcaraz overcame early jitters to beat Casper Ruud of Norway, 7-5, 6-4, and captured his first Masters 1000 tournament title — the level just below the Grand Slam events.Ruud, known until lately as a clay-court specialist, came out slugging, breaking Alcaraz’s serve in the first game of the match. But with each game, Alcaraz seemed more comfortable and applied more pressure, especially when Ruud was serving. Ultimately, Ruud, 23, fell to a player who was more athletic, more creative and more talented, and who is somehow able to grind with anyone, even as a teenager.“You’re such a good player already,” Ruud told his opponent when it was over.Alcaraz collapsed onto his back when a final slicing volley sealed the victory. He grabbed his head in disbelief, though he might have been the only doubter in the stadium. Soon, he was embracing his coach, Juan Carlos Ferrero, and his father, also named Carlos.Ferrero, who calls himself Alcaraz’s “invisible whip,” was in tears. He arrived Saturday, after his father died. But he and Alcaraz’s father wanted to be here to witness the culmination of a staggering month. Their prodigy had tantalized tennis fans on the West Coast, where he tore apart seasoned veterans like Gaël Monfils of France and Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. In the semifinals, he nearly toppled the player he is compared to most often, Rafael Nadal, the 21-time Grand Slam tournament champion who is also from Spain. He then ran the table in Florida.“I am not afraid to say I want to win a Grand Slam,” said Alcaraz, who said he received a congratulatory call from King Felipe VI of Spain after the win. “I know it is going to be really hard, but I am not afraid to say it.”Alcaraz signed autographs after beating Ruud.Wilfredo Lee/Associated PressNo one would dare predict that there are not many more trophies in Alcaraz’s future. In Indian Wells, Nadal could barely pay attention during a news conference as Alcaraz’s match played on a television behind him and he anticipated an approaching showdown. Someone pointed out that Alcaraz was down an early service break to the reigning champion, Cameron Norrie of Britain.Nadal smiled. “Many games remain,” he said. Alcaraz won in straight sets.Now, depending how he does at the clay-court tournaments in Europe ahead of the French Open, Alcaraz could arrive at Roland Garros as a favorite.The rise of Alcaraz has been on the horizon for years. There was buzz that another version of Nadal was evolving under the guidance of Ferrero, a former No. 1-ranked singles player, at his academy in Alicante, Spain. Alcaraz made his debut in a Grand Slam event at 17 at the 2021 Australian Open, where he won his first match. He had yet to crack the top 100 when he played here last year. By September, he was a U.S. Open quarterfinalist.But this era, however brief it was going to be, was supposed to belong to the so-called Next Gen threesome of Daniil Medvedev of Russia, Alexander Zverev of Germany and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, all in their early or mid-20s and primed to claim the sport from the aging Big Three of Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.Other than Medvedev’s triumph at the 2021 U.S. Open, that group is still looking for the most important championships. With Djokovic prohibited from playing most tournaments after his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Medvedev captured the No. 1 ranking in late February, but lost it after an early loss at Indian Wells. Medvedev, Zverev and Tsitsipas have won zero titles through the first quarter of the year.As the tour moves to Europe’s red clay, Medvedev’s worst surface and possibly Alcaraz’s strongest, Medvedev is in danger of becoming an answer to a trivia question about players who held the top ranking for the briefest periods. Alcaraz’s skill and power may be too much to hold off for much longer.Oddly, as hard as Alcaraz hits the ball — so hard that Tsitsipas said last September that it took him a full set to get used to his pace — his most devastating play may be his drop shot. Just as Ruud — or Monfils, Bautista Agut or any opponent — was dug in and battling, there came yet another drop shot, falling like a feather.“It’s crazy how good he plays,” said the 6-foot-5 Hubert Hurkacz, a 25-year-old from Poland who was the reigning champion at the Miami Open.This was about an hour after Alcaraz had outdueled Hurkacz in two tiebreakers in their semifinal Friday night. “Incredible, how he plays, how he competes,” Hurkacz said.The win over Hurkacz came 24 hours after Alcaraz had outlasted Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia, despite losing the first set and being down by 5-3 in a tiebreaker, this one in the third set. Alcaraz stormed back and sealed the match by pushing one last winner down the line. Kecmanovic, a sweat-soaked mess after being run ragged for nearly two and half hours, gazed upward as though Alcaraz had just swindled him out of his per diem.Alcaraz is developing a reputation for wearing down opponents. Midway through the second set on Sunday, the ending seeming inevitable, a tiring and cramping Ruud had to call for a trainer, and spent several minutes being stretched out.Ferrero said the victory would help Alcaraz grow not just as a tennis player but also as a person.“I think it is going to happen many times,” said Ferrero, who added that Alcaraz was not even at the halfway point of his development. “He is growing up so fast.”Now, he said, comes a day or two of golf, of relaxation, and then more work. And then, more likely than not, more trophies. More

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    The Next Generation of Men’s Tennis

    Fixing this and that in their games, these 10 players could join the elite.Novak Djokovic dominated men’s tennis this year, but with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal wearing down physically, 2021 also signaled a changing of the guard: Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the French Open final; Matteo Berrettini reached the Wimbledon final; Alexander Zverev won the Olympic gold medal; and Daniil Medvedev reached the Australian Open final and then won the United States Open. All are 25 or younger.Now a new crop of youngsters, 24 and under, is charging up the rankings, but some will stall.To separate themselves from their peers, each must refine his game; these 10 are most likely to join the sport’s elite, if they improve one aspect of their game. Following is an assessment of each player from coaches, analysts and former professionals. Rankings are through Thursday.Casper RuudNorway, age 22; world ranking: 8Ruud’s speed and all-around game shine on clay, said Tom Shimada, a coach at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy in South Carolina, “but now he has to figure out how to play on the quicker services.”Ruud needs more free points on serve, said Jimmy Arias, director of the IMG Academy’s tennis program in Florida and a Tennis Channel analyst. “He still has to grind on his serve and in three-of-five set tournaments that makes it difficult.”Patrick McEnroe, a director of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York and an analyst for ESPN, was pleasantly surprised by Ruud’s serves and instead feels Ruud needs “more firepower on his forehand, whether it’s more power or more spin.”Christian Bruna/EPA, via ShutterstockHubert HurkaczPoland, age 24; ranking: 9Hurkacz turned heads with his Miami Open win this year, but Arias said he needed to retain consistency because he sometimes lost to lesser players.McEnroe sees that as a lack of assertiveness despite his rise in the rankings: “He needs to be more aggressive with his shots, but also with his attitude. He could use a little swagger.”Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesJannik SinnerItaly, age 20; ranking: 11Sinner himself said he could not pick just one thing to improve. “I’m only 20 years old; I have to improve everything,” he said. “I have to improve the serve, my volleys and mixing up my game as well.”McEnroe and Arias said he needed variety and creativity in his approach. “He’s missing the subtleties of the game,” McEnroe said, “when to hit the ball at 60 percent or to slice it down the middle and make the other guy come up with something.”Carmen Mandato/Getty Images Felix Auger-AliassimeCanada, age 21; ranking: 12He sometimes gets tight, leading to service breaks at crucial moments. “He will just hand you a service break with two double faults and two inexplicable first-ball errors,” Arias said.McEnroe said Auger-Aliassime was a true student of the game, so he sometimes overthinks things. “He’s looking for the perfect shot, so he makes errors,” McEnroe said. “He needs to relax, just let it go and play with more freedom, trusting his athleticism.”Carmen Mandato/Getty ImagesDenis ShapovalovCanada, age 22; ranking: 13Shapovalov has been captivating fans since he shocked Nadal as an 18-year-old at the 2017 Canadian Open, but Shapovalov’s power and style can work to his detriment. “He has tremendous weapons, but he’s going for a lot,” Shimada said. Trying to blast winners is “a tough way to consistently beat the guys who play unbelievable defense.”McEnroe said Shapovalov needed more high-percentage shots on his service return: “He tends to take big swings and has to be more consistent on the return, playing smart, neutral or even defensive shots to get in the rally.”Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesReilly OpelkaUnited States, age 24; ranking: 26Opelka needs confidence. “To reach the next level will require an evolution of his mind-set,” Shimada saidArias recalled watching Opelka double fault twice in a row in Atlanta this summer, then mutter repeatedly to himself, “I should have played team sports.”McEnroe said that at 6-foot-11, Opelka needed to maximize his size and power, going bigger on forehands, returns and serves. “He jokes about not wanting to be a ‘serve-bot,’ but he should play like one more often,” McEnroe said. “To beat the top players, he has to overpower them.”Scott Taetsch/USA Today Sports, via ReutersSebastian KordaUnited States, age 21; ranking: 38Korda soared from 119th this year, but his continued climb requires a better serve, Shimada said, citing his loss to Karen Khachanov at Wimbledon, where Korda was broken seven times in the fifth set as Exhibit A.“You can’t have that happen,” McEnroe said. “The serve has to get better, and he needs to get stronger and impose himself more.”Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesCarlos AlcarazSpain, age 18; ranking: 40Even for this article, which is essentially nit-picking, Arias, McEnroe and Shimada were stumped when it came to the dynamic Alcaraz, who jumped in the rankings from 141 this year.“If I had to pick one guy where you can’t come up with one thing, it’s Alcaraz,” McEnroe said. “He can do it all, and he has moxie.”Mark J. Terrill/Associated PressJenson BrooksbyUnited States, age 21; ranking: 56He believes he needs to commit to being physical and running through the ball in points to avoid going on the defensive. “That’s what I’m working on the most,” Brooksby said.While Shimada, McEnroe and Arias are dazzled by his movement and feel, and his unusual strokes and style, they said his big problem was really his serve.“For his size, [6-foot-4], his serve is mediocre at best,” McEnroe said.He will need a dangerous serve to win a major, but if he improves there, Arias said, look out.“With a bigger serve, he could be the American Daniil Medvedev.”Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesLorenzo MusettiItaly, age 19; ranking: 65He is straightforward in his self-analysis. “I need to improve my serve, but especially my return and especially on hard courts,” said Musetti, a clay-court specialist. “With my one-handed backhand, I need to work on stepping to the ball.”Give him points for self-awareness. “He just doesn’t do enough with the serve,” Shimada said, while Arias said that with a one-handed backhand, Musetti needed to at least get to neutral on returns (hit them harder so he does not start rallies at a disadvantage).McEnroe said Musetti “doesn’t step in as naturally as some other guys and needs to take the ball a little earlier.” More

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    Pro Tennis Finds New Cities to Play In, but Will It Return?

    The pandemic caused many tennis events to be canceled or rescheduled. It also created opportunities for U.S. cities to throw one together.SAN DIEGO — The small tennis stadium was packed and in full roar as Daniel Vallverdú watched Casper Ruud and Grigor Dimitrov trade blows and breaks of serve on Saturday.“Five weeks, we did it all in five weeks,” said Vallverdú, the managing director of the inaugural, and perhaps final, San Diego Open.Despite the planes that droned overhead, the new tournament did not have much runway: about a month to secure temporary stands and sponsors and then stage an ATP 250 event. These remain extraordinary times for sports and those who attempt to organize them.The coronavirus pandemic has created upheaval on the tennis tour, canceling tournaments like Wimbledon in 2020 and forcing many events to be rescheduled. But the situation has also generated unexpected opportunity for American cities that would normally have been unable to find a slot on a packed international calendar.Chicago, once a regular stop on the women’s tour, has staged two new WTA events since August. San Diego, a city with a rich tennis culture, made its debut on the ATP Tour.“It was one of those things where we were in the right place at the right time,” said Bill Kellogg, one of the San Diego Open’s organizers. “We happened to be in a spot where we could say yes when they asked if we could do it with the China circuit caving in. I know guys that had been trying to get ATP tournaments for years and years and had no luck whatsoever.”When 2021 tournaments in Asia were canceled because of the pandemic, the men’s tour had vacant space to fill ahead of the BNP Paribas Open tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., a prestigious 12-day event that had been moved from March to October because of the pandemic.Vallverdú, a former player who has coached top players like Andy Murray and Dimitrov, knew there might be an opportunity in nearby San Diego with its nearly perfect weather and no tour-level event.Most ATP tournaments hold “sanctions” that guarantee their spot on the tour and that can be sold, just as N.F.L. franchises can be sold. But the ATP Tour has been offering one-year licenses during the pandemic to make up for lost playing opportunities. Thirteen tournaments have operated on these one-year licenses in 2020 and 2021.Vallverdú contacted his friend Ryan Redondo, the new executive director at the Barnes Tennis Center, a public facility with 25 outdoor courts that is a hub for the junior game.Redondo, once an all-American tennis player at San Diego State, knew the power of big events firsthand. At age 5, when he attended a 1989 Davis Cup match between France and the United States in San Diego, the playful French star Henri Leconte brought Redondo onto the court for a hit when John McEnroe took a bathroom break.“Part of my strategic plan and vision was we should have every level of tournament possible here at the Barnes Center, from red ball events for 3-year-olds to ATP and WTA events,” Redondo said. “We need all of that to inspire the kids.”He spoke with two potential benefactors, Kellogg and Jack McGrory, who thought Redondo had to be talking about 2022, not 2021. But they quickly agreed to become the still-notional tournament’s co-sponsors.“We said yes in 24 hours, and we had no idea what we were getting into,” McGrory said. “It was much more complicated than we expected.”McGrory said they got the initial funding for the tournament with a $100,000 grant and $200,000 loan from the Southern California Tennis Association Foundation, of which Kellogg is president. McGrory said they were able to raise $850,000 in sponsorships and contributions and another $800,000 from tickets and concessions. The ATP contributed the prize money of more than $600,000.“We’re going to be able to pay off the loan and put some money back into the Barnes Center,” McGrory said.The tournament, with its modest stadium court expanded to 2,000 seats, was sold out for its last four days. Above all, there was a fine field with Murray, a former No. 1, and eight top-20 players: a lineup worthy of a higher-level event than an ATP 250. The proximity to Indian Wells was a big factor in the elite players’ participation, and the winner turned out to be the 10th-ranked Ruud, a Norwegian who has won five titles in his breakout season.But it remains uncertain, even unlikely, that Ruud will be able to defend his title in San Diego. A one-year license provides no guarantee that the tournament will return to the city. What it does provide is a chance to showcase a new venue.“I have a lot of titles to defend next year, and I know four of them will be played next year and for this one we will have to see,” Ruud said on Sunday as he cooled down on an exercise bike after his 6-0, 6-2 demolition of Cameron Norrie in the final. “It’s obviously tough. The ATP is hosting over 60 events a year and all over the planet, so it’s not easy to find a week to fit in. This year, San Diego was able to do this in five weeks, so I see no reason why they couldn’t do it again, and I hope they will do it again not just because I won but it was a great city and great weather. These are perfect conditions for us to play in. It’s not too hot, not too humid and great atmosphere.”San Diego has produced some fine tennis players. Maureen Connolly, who was known as Little Mo, dominated the women’s game in the early 1950s, achieving a Grand Slam by winning all four major singles titles in 1953. Karen Susman won the Wimbledon women’s singles title in 1962. Kelly Jones was ranked No. 1 in the world in men’s doubles in 1992. Recently, CoCo Vandeweghe broke into the women’s top 10 in 2018 and Taylor Fritz reached No. 24 in the ATP singles rankings last year, becoming the top-ranked American man. Brandon Nakashima, ranked 79th at age 20, is one of the most promising American men’s prospects.But there has never been a main ATP Tour event in San Diego until now, and there has been no tour-level event in San Diego County since the women’s tournament in Carlsbad moved to China in 2014.The United States, once the mainstay of the men’s and women’s tours, has steadily lost tournaments to Asia and Europe. In recent years, the Indian Wells event has been the only ATP event in California, and none of the biggest West Coast cities have had a regular men’s tour event.The decline of American tennis has played a role, particularly the decline of American men’s tennis, but the shift also reflects the more global nature of the sport and the new economic strength of Asia.The pandemic, however, has canceled most Asian events for the last two years, a particularly big blow to the women’s tour, which had moved its year-end championships and much of its late-season lineup to China. The Shanghai Open, one of the top events on the men’s tour, also was canceled in 2020 and 2021.It remains unclear what approach China will take going forward, just as it remains unclear whether the San Diego Open was a one-off or the first chapter of a long-running tennis story.But the tournament certainly got the ATP’s attention. Ross Hutchins, the ATP’s chief tour officer, was initially intending to travel straight to Indian Wells from Europe. Instead, after hearing about the buzz at the Barnes Center, he moved up his travel plans and came to San Diego to observe and meet with the tournament’s team.“It’s a huge credit to them and the tournament how they not only embraced the concept but how they delivered,” Hutchins said Sunday. “And to do it in five weeks and to have the outcome they delivered is phenomenal.”Potential options for San Diego include buying another tournament’s sanction, persuading the ATP to break longstanding policy and create a new sanction, or negotiating another one-year license.Nothing is guaranteed, but McGrory sounded confident at Sunday’s awards ceremony as he turned to the finalists.“This is not going to be their last time here,” he said. More

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    2021 French Open: What to Watch on Friday

    Serena Williams, John Isner and Victoria Azarenka will play on Court Philippe-Chatrier as the third round of the French Open begins.How to watch: 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time on Tennis Channel; streaming on Tennis Channel+ and the Peacock app.The third round of the French Open begins on Friday, and 12 Americans will play singles matches in the next two days. John Isner and Reilly Opelka, who are seeded, will be looking to fix a recent issue: There are no American men ranked in the top 30 for the first time in more than 50 years. There are no such issues on the women’s side, with Sofia Kenin and Serena Williams in the top 10 and five more Americans behind them in the top 30.Here are some matches to keep an eye on.Because of the number of matches cycling through courts, the times for individual matchups are estimates and may fluctuate based on when earlier play is completed. All times are Eastern.Court Philippe-Chatrier | 6 a.m.Victoria Azarenka vs. Madison KeysVictoria Azarenka of Belarus, the 15th seed, reached the semifinals of the French Open in 2013, but has not been past the third round since. In the past year, she reached the U.S. Open final, but was also knocked out in the first round of the Australian Open. After injuring her back at the Madrid Open in early May, it was unclear whether Azarenka, 31, would be able to play at Roland Garros. So far, Azarenka, a former world No. 1, has performed well, but she will be facing a formidable opponent in the third round.Madison Keys of the United States, the 23rd seed, has also struggled in 2021, not winning consecutive matches until this week at the French Open. Keys, 26, reached the semifinals in 2018 and the quarterfinals in 2019, but lost in the first round last year. Both players are hard-hitting baseliners. It should be an electric match.Court Philippe-Chatrier | 10 a.m.Serena Williams vs. Danielle CollinsSerena Williams celebrated after winning a long point in a tough match against Mihaela Buzarnescu in the second round on Wednesday.Pete Kiehart for The New York TimesSerena Williams, the seventh seed, showed signs of vulnerability in the second round against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania. After losing the second set, Williams, 39, limited her errors and ended up storming through the third set, 6-1, with a dominant performance returning serves. After some early-round exits during the clay-court swing, Williams must take every challenge seriously.Danielle Collins, an American ranked No. 50, swept past Anhelina Kalinina in the second round, losing only two games. Collins, who had surgery for endometriosis in the spring, did not play a tournament on clay in preparation for the French Open, but she has shown match fitness in the first two rounds. Collins, 27, will be a troublesome opponent for Williams. When the two met on hardcourts in January, Williams barely won in a third-set tiebreaker. Now, on a less favorable surface, there is the potential for an upset.Court Philippe-Chatrier | 3 p.m.Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. John IsnerJohn Isner has a booming serve, but his ground game will be tested in the third round.Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesJohn Isner, the 31st seed, does not have a game that would traditionally favor clay. Isner, a 6-foot-10 American, has a booming serve that favors him on hardcourts and grass, but he has worked in recent years to improve his ground game. This helped him as he broke his second-round opponent, Filip Krajinovic, three times in the second set. Now, Isner’s ground game will be tested to its limit as he looks for an upset.Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, the fifth seed, has had a strong clay-court season, winning the Monte Carlo Masters and the Lyon Open and reaching the final of the Barcelona Open. Tsitsipas, 22, swept through the first two rounds of the French Open without dropping a set, and is a favorite to reach the final from his half of the draw. On Friday, he will have to find a way to adjust to Isner’s strong serve. If he can settle in on return games and get some early breaks, he should be able to control the flow of the match.Court 14 | 5 a.m.Casper Ruud vs. Alejandro Davidovich FokinaCasper Ruud, the 15th seed, has spent the last few years knocking down national records that were once held by his father, Christian. This time, he will look to be the first Norwegian player to reach the round of 16 at more than one Grand Slam event after doing so for the first time at the Australian Open this year. Ruud picked up his second ATP title, and his second on clay, in Geneva last week.Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, ranked No. 46, struggled in a five-set match against Botic van de Zandschulp in the second round. The match lasted 3 hours 42 minutes, with far more errors than winners coming from both players as they attempted to grind out long points and exhaust each other. It will be a challenge for Fokina, 21, to recover in time.Here are a few more matches to keep an eye on.Aryna Sabalenka vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; Court Simonne-Mathieu, 5 a.m.Pablo Carreño Busta vs. Steve Johnson; Court Simonne-Mathieu, 10 a.m.Daniil Medvedev vs. Reilly Opelka; Suzanne Lenglen Court, 10 a.m.Paula Badosa vs. Ana Bogdan; Court Simonne-Mathieu, noon. More

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    Making Week 2 of a Grand Slam Is a Leap. And Not Just for an Extra $80,000 in Australia.

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Australian OpenWhat to Watch TodayHow to WatchThe Players to KnowFans in Virus LockdownAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyMaking Week 2 of a Grand Slam Is a Leap. And Not Just for an Extra $80,000 in Australia.The prestige and difficulty of reaching the round of 16 in a tennis major means many players need multiple tries to break through.Filip Krajinovic, right, lost to Daniil Medvedev in the third round of the Australian Open.Credit…Jaimi Joy/ReutersFeb. 13, 2021, 10:12 a.m. ETMELBOURNE, Australia — Filip Krajinovic was closing in on the fourth round when, in the fifth set of his match on Saturday against Daniil Medvedev at the Australian Open, he retreated as if zapped by an invisible electric fence.Krajinovic had pushed the fourth-ranked Medvedev around the court at Rod Laver Arena while winning the third and fourth sets. But instead of his momentum carrying him into his first Grand Slam round of 16, Krajinovic won only 12 points in the decisive set as Medvedev prevailed 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-0.What happened?Krajinovic hit the tennis equivalent of the Olympic marathoner’s 20-mile wall. His higher-ranked opponent shifted into a higher gear and a tight, tired Krajinovic lost his nerve.“He was the guy who was going for his shots at the end,” Krajinovic said, referring to the fourth-ranked Medvedev, who has won 17 consecutive matches dating to the ATP finals last November in London.For Krajinovic, a Serbian player ranked 33rd, a lot was riding on the outcome of his fourth third-round appearance in his 17th Grand Slam. From the third round to the fourth round is a huge leap in class, akin to moving up in a jumbo jet from the 32 seats in coach to the 16 in first class, with $245,920 — an $80,692 increase over third-round money — stuffed in the zipped goody packet on the seat.At 28, Krajinovic is three years older than Medvedev, a Russian with nine ATP titles to Krajinovic’s zero.“I feel I’m improving, and that’s the most important thing,” Krajinovic said, adding, “I need to go back to work. If I work and I’m focused, I deserve it. I’m sure that someone upstairs is watching.”Medvedev had twice gotten as far as the third round in a Grand Slam before pushing through to the fourth on his third try. Against Krajinovic, he said, “for sure experience is a key.”He added: “I stayed calm. Maybe that’s why in the fifth set he started to do just a little bit more mistakes, just playing a little bit slower.”Medvedev likened the draw in the four majors to the steepest of all tennis ladders. “You need to make step by step,” said Medvedev, who added of Krajinovic, “I feel like if he will reproduce what he did today on the court, he can be in top 20 for years to come.”The 22-year-old Norwegian Casper Ruud, like Krajinovic, was also playing in the third round of a Grand Slam for the fourth time. He’ll never forget his first time: It was at the 2019 French Open and he lost 6-3, 6-1, 7-6 (8) to Roger Federer, the men’s career Grand Slam titleholder who is now tied with Rafael Nadal at 20 majors each. “You kind of think more of the experience of being in the third round than thinking about actually winning the match,” Ruud said.This time was different. Ruud, a former world No. 1 junior who has been ranked as high as No. 25, saw an opening against the 85th-ranked Radu Albot, who upset the No. 12 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round.“I’ve had some tough draws, but I also really felt that this was a chance for me to break through,” said Ruud, who turned back Albot of Moldova, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, in two hours, 58 minutes.“I’m happy to have broken the barrier,” said Ruud, who became the second Norwegian after his father, Christian, in 1997, to reach the round of 16 in this tournament.Shelby Rogers beat the No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit to reach the fourth round. “I think there is this little bit of aura around the second week of a slam,” she said.Credit…Quinn Rooney/Getty ImagesOn the women’s side, three Americans advanced to the fourth round on Saturday. Jessica Pegula set the pace, beating Kristina Mladenovic in the first match at John Cain Arena. She passed the baton to Jennifer Brady, who beat Kaja Juvan in the second match on the same court.Shelby Rogers, the 57th-ranked player from South Carolina, saw that her friends had advanced and, not wanting to be left behind, went out and beat the No. 21 seed Anett Kontaveit on the first night match at Rod Laver Arena.“I think there is this little bit of aura around the second week of a slam,” said Rogers, 28, who has reached the quarterfinals at a Grand Slam twice, at the 2016 French Open and the 2020 United States Open. Her fourth-round opponent will be the world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty of Australia.Pegula, 27, is the only one of the U.S. trio who is breaking new ground by reaching the fourth round in singles. She upset No. 13 Victoria Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, in her opening match and has dropped 13 games in three matches. She said the groundwork for her victory on Saturday was laid in her straight-sets defeat to Petra Kvitova, a former world No. 2, in the third round of the U.S. Open last year.“With women’s tennis, I think the depth is so good right now,” said Pegula, whose next opponent is the fifth-ranked Elina Svitolina. “Sometimes figuring out how to scrape by the first week is really important when you’re not playing well. I think the best players find ways to win on their worst days.”Nadal, the world No. 2 who is bidding for a record 21st Grand Slam singles title, has found a way to scrape by during the first week with a balky back. His opponent on Saturday night was his British doppelgänger, Cameron Norrie, a lefthander who hits with a heavy topspin and defends well.Norrie, 25, has never advanced past the third round and his breakthrough will have to wait. Nadal, 34, handed him a 7-5, 6-2, 7-5 defeat at Rod Laver Arena. Norrie described the match as a good experience and said he’ll take “a lot” of positives from it. “I left the court feeling like I want to get better,” Norrie said.He added, “I did everything to try to make the second week. Rafa was too good.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More