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    Iga Swiatek Dominates in French Open Final for Championship

    After winning her first French Open out of season in October as an unseeded teenager, Iga Swiatek proved that was no fluke by winning the title again in the spring as an overwhelming favorite.Swiatek, the No. 1 seed from Poland, cemented her status as the game’s dominant player by defeating Coco Gauff of the United States, 6-1, 6-3, in Saturday’s women’s final in just over an hour.Swiatek, 21, has been an irresistible force on any surface for the last four months, but red clay is her favorite playground. She took command on Saturday from the start to win her 35th straight match and sixth straight tournament.“Two years ago, winning this title was something amazing,” Swiatek said. “Honestly I couldn’t expect better but this time I feel like I worked hard and did everything to get here even though it was pretty tough. The pressure was big.”Gauff, in her first Grand Slam singles final at age 18, sat in her chair courtside with tears streaming down her face after the defeat. She had not dropped a set in the tournament, but she also had not faced a player ranked in the top 30. The step up proved too big on Saturday as Gauff lost to Swiatek for the third time in three encounters.“I just told Coco, ‘Don’t cry’ and what am I doing now?” Swiatek said with a smile at Gauff as she gave a teary speech to the Roland Garros crowd.Just four years ago, they both played in the French Open girls tournament, with Gauff winning the title and Swiatek losing in the semifinals. But Swiatek, nearly three years Gauff’s elder, has stormed to the front of the women’s game since then with her aggressive style, powerful package of skills and detail-oriented approach to training.She is one of the first tennis players to travel with a full-time performance psychologist, Daria Abramowicz, and despite finishing in the top 10 last year, she switched coaches in the off-season, hiring Tomasz Wiktorowski, who was working as a television analyst in Poland after many years of coaching retired Polish star Agnieszka Radwanska.Her new team has clicked quickly, and she has not lost since February, compiling a 42-3 record in 2022 and winning the titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart, Rome and now Paris, where she broke through in 2020, winning her first major title without losing a set.That French Open was played in the autumn after being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was played without spectators, and Swiatek’s thunderous shots echoed through the all-but-empty Chatrier Court in the final rounds. But this has been a much more festive edition, with crowds making up for lost sporting events and packing the grounds and courts at Roland Garros from the start.There were shouts and murmurs aplenty on Saturday as the two young stars arrived on the red clay with plenty of chants of “Coco” but also plenty of support for “Iga” from the large bloc of Polish fans clad in red and white.But Gauff did not give her support group much to cheer for in the early going, losing her serve in a hurry in the opening game with a series of errors and one very edgy double fault. Swiatek was not at her sharpest early but as she has been throughout her streak, she was the more aggressive, proactive player.She took a quick 4-0 lead before Gauff managed to hold serve, and Swiatek then closed out the opening set. Though Gauff managed to break Swiatek’s serve to open the second set and take a 2-0 lead, Swiatek settled herself and played one of her best games of the match to get back in control. She won five straight games, creating openings with wide serves and angled groundstrokes and then filling them with winners.She served for the championship at 5-3 and finished off the victory with a first serve to Gauff’s less reliable forehand wing. The return sailed just long and Swiatek dropped to her knees, a French Open champion for the second time.In light of her age, her long-range plan and her talent, it would come as quite a surprise if Swiatek, whose role model is 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, does not win at Roland Garros again.Gauff, despite Saturday’s disappointment, will still have a chance to leave Paris a champion. She and partner Jessica Pegula will play in the women’s doubles final on Sunday against Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia of France. More

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    French Open Women’s Final: How to Watch and Stream

    For fans waking up early to watch the French Open in the United States, matches throughout the tournament have been spread across a few television channels and streaming outlets.The women’s singles final, between Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff, will be carried in the United States by NBC, as well as the NBC Sports website, app and Peacock Premium. The final begins at 9 a.m. Eastern, and has a best-of-three sets format.Here’s a list of broadcasters in several countries, including TSN in Canada and France TV Sport. More

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    Coco Gauff Reaches French Open Final, Will Face Iga Swiatek

    Gauff and Swiatek each advanced in their semifinals Thursday by winning in straight sets.PARIS — It is easy to be in a rush when you reach the fourth round of Wimbledon at age 15, beating one of your idols, Venus Williams, in your opening match. It is easy to be in a hurry when the sponsors and the platform are already in place, and you have been hearing from experts and the voice inside your own head that you have what it takes to be a champion.But tennis is a trickier game than most: a blend of the physical, the technical and the psychological with so much time to think between points and serves and so many tournaments, time changes and defeats to navigate.Coco Gauff, even if she is only 18, has had to be more patient than she planned. But the young American’s potential and performances under pressure are beginning to converge. On Saturday, she will play in her first Grand Slam singles final, facing the No. 1 seed, Iga Swiatek, at the French Open for the title and the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.“There’s a fine line between believing in yourself and almost pushing yourself too much,” Gauff said on Thursday after her semifinal victory, 6-3, 6-1, over Martina Trevisan, sounding, as usual, rather older than her years.Gauff, the youngest Grand Slam singles finalist since Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 at age 17, was comparing her expectations with those she had a season ago, when she reached the quarterfinals of the French Open. She found herself unable to manage the pressure and the critical points and flung her racket across the clay in frustration while losing to Barbora Krejcikova, the unseeded eventual champion.“At that moment, I wanted it too much,” she said. “Whereas now, I definitely want it. Yes, who wouldn’t? But also, it’s not going to be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen for me.”The odds, make no mistake, are still significantly against her. Gauff faces the toughest task available in women’s tennis.Swiatek, 21, extended her winning streak to 34 matches in Thursday’s first semifinal by overwhelming the 20th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, 6-2, 6-1, in just over an hour.That score and breakneck pace have been typical for Swiatek, the powerful and increasingly imposing Polish star. She has not lost a match since February and has beaten Gauff in their two previous matches in straight sets: winning, 7-6 (3), 6-3, on red clay in the semifinals of last year’s Italian Open and winning, 6-3, 6-1, on a hardcourt in the round of 16 at this year’s Miami Open in March.“She’s definitely the favorite going into the match on paper,” Gauff said. “But I think that going in, I’m just going to play free and play my best tennis. I think in a Grand Slam final, anything can happen.”Gauff during her match against Martina Trevisan of Italy.James Hill for The New York TimesGauff’s ability to extend points with her speed and defensive skills could certainly force Swiatek into more errors than usual. Under the guidance of Diego Moyano, the veteran coach who joined her team in April, Gauff has improved her tactics, according to her father, Corey Gauff, who has been her main coach since childhood.“Playing to her strengths means not rushing all the time,” Corey Gauff said in an interview on Thursday night. He added: “He’s able to communicate to her how it makes him feel on the other side of the net when she does something. He’s trying to get her to understand why she’s making the decision and what the impact is. And he’s been pretty effective compared to dad. We dads tend to be command and control, and that doesn’t always work.”But clay remains Swiatek’s favorite canvas. She won the French Open in 2020 at age 19. Gauff lost in the second round of that tournament to Trevisan, looking increasingly distraught as her double fault count rose. She finished with 19. On Thursday, she finished with just two, her lowest total of this Roland Garros.“She’s learning to manage the emotions and understanding that double faults are a part of the game and that you don’t need to overreact,” Corey Gauff said.Though Coco Gauff was only 4-3 on clay this year before Roland Garros, she has not lost a set in six matches. “I’m going to be honest,” she said. “This year I hadn’t had the best results going into this. So it wasn’t expected at all, really.”Gauff graduated from year-round, online high school earlier this spring, celebrating her achievement with a photo taken in front of the Eiffel Tower before the French Open. Corey Gauff believes that has helped her fly higher in Paris.“That release when you finish high school or college is real,” he said. “She’s always had work to turn in, and it’s always in the back of your mind. I feel like this is the first tournament she’s played with no homework.”But she is still following current events, and on Thursday, after defeating Trevisan, she walked across the red clay for the now-customary signing of the television camera glass and decided, quite spontaneously she explained, to make a statement about last month’s elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which 19 students and two teachers were killed.“Peace. End Gun violence,” Gauff wrote, drawing a heart next to her first name.“That was just a message for the people back at home to watch and for people who are all around the world to watch,” she said, adding: “Hopefully it gets into the heads of people in office to hopefully change things.”Gauff said she was influenced by athletes such as the former N.F.L. quarterback Colin Kaepernick and her fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka, who have been outspoken on social and cultural issues. But Gauff’s family also made it clear to her from an early age that she could have a reach far beyond the court.“My dad told me I could change the world with my racket,” she said. “He didn’t mean that by like just playing tennis. He meant speaking out on issues like this. The first thing my dad said to me after I got off court: ‘I’m proud of you, and I love what you wrote on the camera.’”Corey Gauff said he first told his daughter of the influence she could have when she was 6 or 7.“I am glad she’s being aware of what’s going on around her,” he said. “She has a brother who is 8 years old and is in elementary school. It’s not hard for it to hit home. I’m glad she is aware and bringing the attention and empathy to it. She’s not just hitting the tennis ball. She’s a global citizen.”Still, tennis is certainly a focus at Roland Garros. Gauff, seeded 18th, is guaranteed to rise to a career-high No. 13 and could rise as high as No. 8 if she defeats Swiatek. She is not just aiming for the singles title. She and her partner, Jessica Pegula, are into the semifinals of the women’s doubles and will face their American compatriots Taylor Townsend and Madison Keys on Friday.Gauff’s younger brothers — 8-year-old Cameron and 14-year-old Codey — are scheduled to arrive in Paris on Friday morning after traveling from the family’s home in Delray Beach, Fla.“They are coming over for the singles final and hopefully the doubles final as well,” Corey Gauff said.Cameron’s birthday is on Sunday.“He’s coming to Paris as an 8-year-old and leaving as a 9-year-old,” Corey Gauff said with a chuckle.Cameron’s big sister has a chance to leave as a Grand Slam champion. More

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    Leylah Fernandez and Coco Gauff Advance at the French Open

    She outlasted Amanda Anisimova, a hard-hitting American, showing the kind of big-stage composure that got her to the final of last year’s U.S. Open.PARIS — It is a new season and a different surface, but Leylah Fernandez, still tenacious and still a teenager, is back in the deep end of another Grand Slam tournament.She needed all of her resourcefulness and upbeat energy on this unseasonably chilly Sunday afternoon at Roland Garros.Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American seeded 27th, is one of the biggest pure hitters in women’s tennis, capable of generating phenomenal pace with a seemingly casual swipe of the racket.She has a new model this season, which has helped her control her easy power. The 17th-seeded Fernandez spent nearly two hours digging in the corners and lunging for returns, but in the end, the counterpuncher beat the puncher 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 as Fernandez’s quickness, consistency and yes-I-can positivity made the small difference as she advanced to her first French Open quarterfinal.“She’s very offensive,” Fernandez said. “I just tried to be as offensive as her and just take my chances, and the balls went in today.”That is no coincidence at this stage. Fernandez, a 19-year-old Canadian, looks like a big-stage player and was part of perhaps the biggest surprise in tennis history when she and another unseeded teenager, Emma Raducanu, advanced to the U.S. Open final last year with Raducanu, a qualifier, winning in straight sets.The rest of the women’s field has certainly taken notice.“I’m thinking, especially if the U.S. Open taught us anything, that anybody can win on any day,” said Coco Gauff, an 18-year-old American who is seeded 18th at Roland Garros.Gauff played one of the better matches on Sunday, defeating No. 31 seed Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-0 to return to the French Open quarterfinals, where she lost last year to the eventual champion Barbora Krejcikova in an error-strewn match that Gauff ranks as one of the biggest disappointments of her short career because of the way she managed the most significant points.“I think that was the biggest lesson I learned last year in my quarterfinal,” Gauff said. “I had a couple of set points, and I think I freaked out when some of those points didn’t go my way. Today I didn’t freak out.”Instead, she gathered strength and showed increased patience on the clay, often engaging in long rallies with Mertens before going for winners (or hitting a lunging backhand around the net post).Her work on herself and with her new coach, Diego Moyano, seems to be paying dividends, and Gauff will next face one of Moyano’s former pupils, Sloane Stephens, in an all-American, intergenerational duel.Stephens, 29, is unseeded this year but has long thrived on clay and was a French Open finalist in 2018. On Sunday, she overwhelmed Jil Teichmann 6-2, 6-0. Stephens defeated Gauff 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of last year’s U.S. Open when they played for the first time on tour. But that was hardly the first meeting. Both are based in South Florida, and Stephens attended Gauff’s 10th birthday party and practiced with Gauff for the first time when Gauff was 12 and already planning on facing Stephens on much bigger stages.“Today I didn’t freak out,” Coco Gauff said of her straight-sets win on Sunday.Yoan Valat/EPA, via Shutterstock“I had a very competitive mind-set since I was a little girl,” Gauff said. “Yes, I looked up to her and all that, but I knew that I was going to be playing against her.”For those who followed the dueling Cinderella stories, Fernandez and Raducanu will be forever linked, but though both were seeded here in Paris, they have not been on parallel paths since New York.Neither has come close to taking the regular tour by storm. That has been reserved for a player who is only slightly older: the new No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who at age 20 has won 31 straight matches and remains a prohibitive favorite at Roland Garros, where she was a surprise teenage champion herself in 2020.But while Raducanu has signed a series of major endorsement deals and shuffled coaches, she has yet to get past the quarterfinals of a regular tour event since the U.S. Open. Fernandez has often lost early as well but she did defend her singles title in Monterrey, Mexico, in March and is now making her best run in Paris with a fine chance to go further considering that she will face the unseeded Italian Martina Trevisan in a rare quarterfinal between left-handers at Roland Garros.Sloane Stephens will face Gauff, her fellow American, in the quarterfinals.Christophe Archambault/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesFernandez said she put too much pressure on herself to succeed after the U.S. Open final.“I just wanted to be more offensive, more aggressive and improve my game as fast as possible,” she said. “I think I just understood that there is a process, and it’s still a long year, a very long year, and I just need to calm myself down, calm my mind down. And just accept that things are going to be tough, things are going to go sideways in a match, in a practice. And just understand that I’ve got more tools in my toolbox that I can use and just find solutions.”That last sentence sounds like she has been studying the Rafael Nadal phrase book, and there is indeed a touch of Nadal in Fernandez on court. She, too, is a speedy lefty with unorthodox technique. Nadal has his bolo-whip finish on the forehand; Fernandez has extreme grips of her own and often hits her two-handed backhand with her hands far apart.There are the intangibles, too: the in-the-moment combativeness; the resolute walk between points and the ingrained rituals. Anisimova might want to jot down a few notes considering her lingering tendency to get negative. She often grimaced at her errors on Sunday, mocking her own shots and flinging her racket across the red clay in frustration late in the final set to the sound of a few scattered boos from stands that were never more than half full on the main Chatrier Court.Fernandez seemed like a more composed and focused presence. Even if her game was a flickering flame, her commitment was not.“Every time I step out on the court I still have something to prove,” she said. “I still have that mind-set I’m the underdog. I’m still young. I still have a lot to show to the people, to the public so that they can just enjoy the tennis match.” More

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    As the French Open Begins, the War in Ukraine Roils the Locker Room

    “I feel like it’s not united,” Iga Swiatek, the top-ranked women’s player, said of a decision by the tours to punish Wimbledon for barring players from Russian and Belarus.PARIS — The idea by the men’s and women’s tennis tours was to take a strong stand against Wimbledon’s decision to keep out players from Russia and Belarus, then let tennis and competition move the conversation away from politics and the invasion of Ukraine.It has not worked out that way.On Monday, the second day of the French Open, the politics of tennis and Russia reared its head once more. The professional tours’ announcement Friday night that they would not award rankings points this year at Wimbledon, essentially turning the most prestigious event in tennis into an exhibition and punishing players who did well there last year, has roiled the sport, igniting a sharp debate over the game’s role in a deeply unpopular war and dominating the conversation at the year’s second Grand Slam.Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine spoke emotionally about the invasion, saying it has made her care little about winning or losing. Iga Swiatek, the world No. 1, talked of the sport being in disarray. Naomi Osaka, one of the biggest stars, said she was leaning toward skipping Wimbledon if the decision not to award rankings points for match victories there stands.“I feel like it’s not united,” Swiatek said after defeating Tsurenko, 6-2, 6-0, in her opening match while wearing a Ukraine pin on her cap, as she has for the past three months. “It’s all the people who are organizing tournaments, like, for example, WTA, ATP and I.T.F., they all have separate views, and it’s not joint. We feel that in the locker room a little bit, so it’s pretty hard.”Swiatek’s comments came shortly after Tsurenko described how lost she has been since late February. Tsurenko, who was ranked as high as No. 23 in 2019, said she at first wanted simply to go home and figure out how she could help with the war effort, but she decided to keep playing and competed in important tournaments in Miami and Indian Wells, Calif.Then, after an early loss at a tournament in Marbella, Spain, and no tournament on her schedule for another three weeks, she realized she had nowhere to live or train. With the help of another player from Ukraine, Marta Kostyuk, she landed at the Piatti Tennis Center in Italy, but the psychological challenge remains of balancing her career while her country faces an existential threat.“I just want to enjoy every match, but at the same time, I don’t feel that I care too much,” she said. “I’m trying to find this balance between just go on court and don’t care versus try to care. In some cases it helps.”Tsurenko spoke emotionally about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying it had made her care little about winning or losing.Thibault Camus/Associated PressAfter feeling emboldened by Wimbledon’s decision to bar players from Russia and Belarus, Tsurenko and her compatriots were disheartened by the WTA’s decision to strike back.“When it’s not in your country you don’t really understand how terrible it is,” Tsurenko said. Compared with what she and her country have been through, giving up the chances for rankings points seems like a small price to pay, she said. “For them, they feel like they are losing their job,” she said of the players who are barred. “I also feel many bad things. I feel a lot of terrible things, and I think, compared to that, losing a chance to play in one tournament is nothing.”She hates the propaganda used by the Russian government to disparage her country. She said no more than five players had expressed their support for her since the start of the war. She dreads being drawn against a Russian player in a tournament.Dayana Yastremska, who is also from Ukraine and who also lost Monday, said the decision to withhold points for Wimbledon was not fair to players from Ukraine.“We are not a happy family right now,” said Yastremska, who still does not have a training base and was unsure where she would spend the next weeks.In an interview this month, Steve Simon, the chief executive of the WTA Tour, said the organization had to live up to its principle that access to tournaments for players should be based on merit alone. He also said that discriminating against a player because of the actions of her country’s government was not acceptable.“I can’t imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through and feeling at this moment, and I feel bad for these athletes who are being asked to take the blame for someone else’s actions,” Simon said.Russian players have expressed disappointment in Wimbledon’s decision and appreciation for the tours’ support in protecting what they view as their right to play, though no player has sought relief in the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer with experience in right-to-play cases, said tennis players from Russia and Belarus would most likely have a strong case.“We are professional athletes, we put effort every day in what we do and basically want to work,” said Karen Khachanov of Russia, who won his opening-round match Sunday and was a semifinalist at Wimbledon last year.One of the few players not to express an opinion was Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, a former world No. 1 and member of the WTA Players’ Council, but her distress over the disagreement was clear.Glyn Kirk/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images“I say one thing, it’s going to be criticized; I say another thing, it’s going to be criticized,” said Azarenka, who once had a close relationship with President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus.In its statement Friday, the ATP said its rules and agreements existed to protect the rights of all players as a whole: “Unilateral decisions of this nature, if unaddressed, set a damaging precedent for the rest of the tour. Discrimination by individual tournaments is simply not viable on a tour that operates in more than 30 countries.”The tangible impact of the ATP and WTA decisions on the sport was evident Monday as Osaka made her feelings known about possibly skipping Wimbledon. She is not a fan of grass surfaces to begin with, and without an opportunity to improve her ranking, she might struggle to find motivation.“The intention was really good, but the execution is kind of all over the place,” Osaka said.Swiatek, who is from Poland, which has supported Ukraine perhaps more than any other country, said locker room conversations, which might once have been about changing balls during matches, have shifted to discussions of war, peace and politics. She stopped short of overtly stating her position, but she hardly masked her sentiments.“All the Russian and Belarusian players are not responsible in what’s going on in their country,” Swiatek said. “But on the other hand, the sport has been used in politics and we are kind of public personas and we have some impact on people. It would be nice if the people who are making decisions were making decisions that are going to stop Russia’s aggression.” More

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    What the Italian Open Is Foretelling About the French Open

    Though at opposite poles of their careers, the top singles players, Iga Swiatek and Novak Djokovic, both cruised to titles in Rome and are looking strong heading into Paris.ROME — We will soon find out how much of what happened Sunday at the Italian Open was foreshadowing.The main draw for the French Open, the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay courts, begins in a week. But Iga Swiatek’s and Novak Djokovic’s decisive victories in Rome certainly solidified two key themes heading into Paris.Swiatek continues to look irresistible, and Djokovic now looks fully revitalized.Both are ranked No. 1 in singles and playing like it. Neither dropped a set on the way to their Italian Open titles, and both polished off their runs convincingly against top-10 players in Sunday’s finals. Swiatek defeated Ons Jabeur, 6-2, 6-2, to stop Jabeur’s 11-match winning streak and extend her own to 28. Djokovic followed her lead, defeating Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-0, 7-6 (5).Swiatek and Djokovic are at opposite poles of their careers.Swiatek, 20, is just now harnessing the full force of her hard-charging power game, grasping that she can be not only a serial champion but also an intimidator as she crowds the opposition with her heavy-topspin forehand and acrobatic, tight-to-the-baseline defense.Djokovic, who will turn 35 on the opening day of Roland Garros, established himself years ago as one of the game’s greatest players. He is the oldest man to win the Italian Open in singles in the Open era: slightly older than his longtime rival Rafael Nadal was when he beat Djokovic to win the title at 34 last year.Djokovic has endured long enough that he was not the only Djokovic playing for a title on Sunday. While he was prevailing in Rome, his 7-year-old son, Stefan, was winning the title at his debut tournament at a club in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.“I just received that news: a sunshine double today,” Djokovic said with one of his biggest smiles of the week.I mentioned to Djokovic that it has been said that the only thing more mentally challenging than being a tennis player is being a tennis parent.“Not a single day have I told him you have to do this; it’s really purely his own desire to step on the court,” Djokovic said. “He’s really in love with the sport. Last night, when I spoke to him, he was up till late. He was showing me forehand and backhands, how he’s going to move tomorrow, kind of shadowing, playing shadow tennis without a racket. It was so funny to see that. I used to do that when I was a kid. I could see the joy in him, the pure emotion and love for the game.”Djokovic, like his career-long reference points Nadal and Roger Federer, has underscored his passion with long-running excellence and by persistently ignoring the hints that his peak years might be behind him.For Djokovic, this has been a season and a challenge like no other: His decision to remain unvaccinated against the coronavirus led to a standoff with Australian authorities that ended with his deportation on the eve of this year’s Australian Open, and it kept him out of the Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami Gardens, Fla., in March.But with the health protocols now relaxed in Europe, Djokovic returned to regular action on clay last month. Though he struggled in his initial matches with his timing and his endurance, he has slowly but convincingly resumed hitting his targets, and he has gathered momentum just in time for Roland Garros.“I always try to use these kinds of situations and adversity in my favor to fuel me for the next challenge,” he said of Australia. “As much as I’ve felt pressure in my life and my career, that was something really on a whole different level. But I feel it’s already behind me. I feel great on the court. Mentally as well, I’m fresh. I’m sharp.”Against Tsitsipas, the hirsute Greek star who pushed Djokovic to five sets before losing last year’s French Open final, Djokovic controlled most of the baseline rallies with as much patience as panache. When Tsitsipas failed to serve out the second set, Djokovic proved the more reliable force in the tiebreaker, perfectly content, it seemed, to wait for Tsitsipas to crack.“To some extent, it’s a relief because after everything that happened at the beginning of the year, it was important for me to win a big title,” Djokovic said.Stefanos Tsitsipas, who lost to Novak Djokovic in the final in Rome, considered Djokovic a favorite at Roland Garros.Andreas Solaro/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIt might have been even more reassuring if his title had come against a full-strength field. But Carlos Alcaraz, the 19-year-old from Spain who has been the revelation of the season, chose to rest and skip the Italian Open after beating Nadal and Djokovic to win the title in Madrid. Nadal, the greatest clay-court player in history, lost in the quarterfinals, limping and wincing in the final set of his defeat against Denis Shapovalov of Canada as he struggled anew with the chronic pain in his left foot that threatened his career in his teens and imperils it again now at age 35.Nadal has won the French Open a mind-boggling 13 times; Djokovic a more terrestrial two. But as counterintuitive as it is to count Nadal out in Paris, it seems right to bump him down the list of favorites this year, all the more because he might not even compete.“Right now, Carlos Alcaraz or Novak Djokovic,” said Tsitsipas, who lost to both men this month. “They both play great, great tennis. I would put them as favorites.”It is tempting to lean toward Djokovic considering that Alcaraz has so little experience in the best-of-five-set format and no experience in managing the stress that can come with being placed on a Grand Slam shortlist. But he held up astoundingly well in Madrid despite all the pressure from Djokovic’s groundstrokes and timely first serves down the stretch.Alcaraz is undoubtedly special. The question is just how special, which seems a fine line of inquiry for Swiatek, as well. She was on a roll even before Ashleigh Barty retired suddenly in March while holding the No. 1 ranking. But Swiatek has filled the role with true swagger, solving all manner of riddles by lopsided margins.Since her winning streak began in February, she has lost just five sets and came genuinely close to losing a set only once in Rome, prevailing over the 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu in a first-set tiebreaker in the quarterfinals before closing her out, 6-0.Jabeur, a tactic-shuffling Tunisian, won the title in Madrid on clay this month in Swiatek’s absence. But Sunday represented a big step up as Swiatek not only hunted down most of Jabeur’s trademark drop shots but also dealt firmly with most of Jabeur’s full-force bolts into the corners.There was not much genuine danger, but when it surfaced Swiatek was prepared. Up, 4-2, in the second set but down, 0-40, on her serve, Swiatek saved three break points with winners, and then saved a fourth with a backhand drop volley to cap a full-court exchange.She was soon sobbing on the clay behind the baseline after securing her fifth straight title. Clearly, winning is more taxing than Swiatek is making it look, but after wiping away the tears, she was back to grinning in the Roman sunshine and holding up yet another trophy to go with those won in Doha, Qatar; Indian Wells; Miami Gardens, and Stuttgart, Germany.“Today, I’m going to celebrate with a lot of tiramisù, no regrets,” she said, suddenly much more relatable than when she was pounding the opposition into clay dust.It will come as no surprise if another sweet finish awaits in Paris. More

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    Bianca Andreescu’s Extended Break From Tennis Has Served Her Well

    Despite losing to Iga Swiatek, the top women’s player, at the Italian Open, Andreescu is heading to the French Open in a healthier place, mentally and physically.ROME — Bianca Andreescu’s first Italian Open had just come to an understandable halt in the quarterfinals against Iga Swiatek, a steamroller disguised as a tennis star.But even after failing to prevent the top-ranked Swiatek from extending her winning streak to 26 matches, Andreescu still took a seat in the Roman sunshine with a broad smile on her face.Defeat at this stage does not have the same hard edge that defeat has had in other phases of her career.“Honestly, I’m just fired up to get back out there and play her again,” Andreescu said in an interview after her loss, 7-6 (2), 6-0, on Friday. “If I look at myself a year ago, there’s just been so much progress in the way I’m handling being back on tour and my wins and my losses. I’m just super motivated. I want to go back on court right now and work on being more aggressive or whatnot.”Andreescu, a 21-year-old Canadian from the Toronto suburbs, remains one of the great talents in tennis, which she made abundantly clear in 2019 by winning the U.S. Open women’s singles title in her first attempt, defeating Serena Williams in straight sets.Ranked a career-high No. 4 in the month that followed, she will be No. 72 on Monday but still has that beguiling blend of finesse and punch and a rare ability to shift gears and spins. She also has powerful legs reminiscent of her role model Kim Clijsters that help her cover the court explosively and generate big-time pace despite lacking the leverage of taller players (she is 5-foot-6).“There’s no shot she cannot hit,” said Daniela Hantuchová, an analyst and former top five player who was commentating courtside on Friday as Andreescu and Swiatek played on tour for the first time.“In that first set, Bianca was not far from her top level at all,” Hantuchová said. “For me, that was the best set of tennis in the women’s tournament so far. In a way, it almost feels like a mirror against a mirror. They have different technique, but they have their routines between the points mentally, and tactically they know exactly what they are trying to do out there. Both are great athletes, and I kept saying during the match that I hope we see this matchup more often. It would be a wonderful rivalry to have.”But until now, Andreescu, unlike the 20-year-old Swiatek, has been only a part-time threat. There have been a series of injuries, a career-long concern, and more recently the malaise that moved her to take her most-recent extended break after the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., in October 2021, before returning for a tournament in Stuttgart last month.She used her time off tour to do community service, volunteering in a children’s hospital and a shelter for victims of domestic violence. She went to a wellness retreat in Costa Rica and focused on developing more mental tools to complement the visualization and meditation work that she, like Swiatek, started during her junior career and has cited as one of the keys to her precocious, if intermittent, success.Andreescu after defeating Serena Williams to win the U.S. Open women’s singles title in 2019.Jason Szenes/EPA, via Shutterstock“After Indian Wells, I legit, like, didn’t want to play anymore,” she said. “I don’t know if I was being dramatic, but that’s just how I was feeling in the moment. But now, I’m just super happy that I didn’t stop, because having that time off really made me appreciate my time on court more now, because that was a decision that came from me. It wasn’t anything external like injuries or an illness or whatever. It was my call, and so I felt very empowered, and that was a big step in me taking more control over my life and just not putting pressure on myself and just enjoying myself.“During that break, I did basically everything I love to do, and I told myself if I do come back, I want to be in that same mind-set. Obviously, I want to be competitive and upset if I lose for instance, but I want to also feel that I enjoy myself on court and that I’m more motivated after a loss instead of just like crawling in my bed and just like crying all night, which I was doing last year.”Andreescu, like her fellow tennis star Naomi Osaka and some other prominent athletes of their generation, has been open about the mental-health challenges she faces. Three tournaments into her latest comeback, Andreescu is clearly in a better place and will head into the French Open with momentum on the red clay that suits her varied game. She arrived at Friday’s interview with no tape on her body or ice packs in tow.“Nothing,” she said. “I’m just super grateful for my body especially, because that’s been a huge problem. But I do see myself being a great clay-court player if I just continue doing well and working hard in practice and believing in myself.”The challenge on tour — a 10-month test of endurance and resilience — is to maintain the health and enthusiasm.Her team, headed by the veteran coach Sven Groeneveld, is focused on keeping her fresh and, according to Andreescu, also on calling her bluffs.“They can call me out without me becoming defensive, and I think that really helps,” she said.Groeneveld, whose highest-profile pupil in recent years was the now-retired Maria Sharapova, declined to comment on Andreescu because they are “still early” in their relationship. But he has a systematic approach to his work, sitting courtside during matches and noting the score point by point along with the key patterns of play and other details, including a player’s lapses in concentration.“He could write like 10 books with all the notes he’s taking. It’s hilarious,” Andreescu said.Swiatek, right, meeting Andreescu at the net after winning their quarterfinal match.Alex Pantling/Getty ImagesAndreescu, as Canada’s first and only Grand Slam singles champion, has already had a book written about her called “Bianca Andreescu: She the North,” published in 2019, and has written one herself, a picture book published last year titled “Bibi’s Got Game: A Story about Tennis, Meditation and a Dog Named Coco.”But with the surprise retirement of the reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Ashleigh Barty earlier this season, the leaders of the women’s game can only hope that Andreescu’s tennis story is just beginning.She has an incandescent game as was clear to Hantuchová and anyone else who watched the opening set on Friday before Swiatek kicked into a gear that Andreescu was not ready to match, at least not yet.“She clearly gained some confidence from that first set,” Andreescu said. “I was trying to be more aggressive, but at least in the second set I was missing by inches. But she’s on a 25-match streak, well make that 26 now, for a reason.” More

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    Naomi Osaka Finds New Motivation Despite a Loss in Miami

    A couple of years ago, Naomi Osaka told Iga Swiatek she was too good to quit tennis. On Saturday, Swiatek proved her right.MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — A little more than two years ago, over dinner during the Australian Open, Iga Swiatek told Naomi Osaka that she wasn’t sure a career in tennis was going to go her way, so she was thinking of going to college. Osaka, who was 22 then and had already won two Grand Slam titles, told Swiatek that was a terrible idea. You’re really good, Osaka told Swiatek, who at the time was still cramming in high school homework. Don’t divert your energy to college just yet, Osaka advised.Swiatek took Osaka’s advice, and good thing she did. Nine months later she came out of nowhere to win the French Open while she was ranked 54th in the world. Saturday, in a clash of styles, narratives and friends in the finals of the Miami Open, Swiatek ended a run that Osaka hopes will mark the beginning of the next chapter of her turbulent career with a 6-4, 6-0 win to cement her remarkable rise to the top of her sport.Next week, Swiatek will officially take over the No. 1 ranking, the first player from Poland to rise to that lofty perch. As she held the winner’s trophy, Swiatek called Osaka “an inspiration” and said she would never have imagined when they were having that dinner that they might actually be playing each other for championships one day.“I think it’s the start of a great rivalry,” Swiatek said.For Osaka, this tournament marked a remarkable turnaround that few saw coming, even if she felt like it was not far off. Just three weeks ago at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, a lone heckler rattled her during her second round match, bringing her to tears and triggering memories of the racist treatment Serena and Venus Williams endured at the event two decades ago.But it also seemed to suggest that Osaka, who lost 6-0, 6-4 to Veronika Kudermatova that night, might not be up for the grind and pressures of the professional tennis tour after a year filled with breaks and setbacks, a disclosure of a yearslong struggle with her mental health and questions about whether playing tennis could ever make her happy.In South Florida though, her home for most of her childhood, a far-steelier Osaka took the court, and she played a lot like she had when she won four Grand Slam tournaments. She won eight consecutive sets on the way to a semifinal match in which she battled back against an opponent, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, who had beaten her repeatedly for years.Osaka was once more ripping forehands through the court and coming up with unreturnable laser serves when she needed them most. Beyond the tennis, though, there has been a lightness to her experience. Even in defeat Saturday, she could not help but grin as the hometown crowd smothered her with cheers.They were never louder than when James Blake, the former pro and the tournament director for this event, gazed at Osaka during the awards presentation and said, “I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel to see you happy again.”Then it was Osaka’s turn. “I know I haven’t been in this position for a little while,” she told the crowd after her first final since the 2021 Australian Open. “The outcome wasn’t what you wanted, but hopefully I can keep working hard and be in a position to do this again soon.”Swiatek entered Sunday’s final on a 16-game win streak.Erik S Lesser/EPA, via ShutterstockIn the past, she would say later, she would be crying with disappointment following a day like Saturday. Instead, she experienced it as “a sad outcome but a fun day. “It’s cool to see where the level of No. 1 is and to see if I can reach that,” she said.In Swiatek, Osaka ran into a version of a player that didn’t exist when Osaka was last a mainstay of important tournaments.With the sudden retirement of Ashleigh Barty last week, Swiatek earned the No. 1 ranking, owing largely to a white-hot start to the year. Since her loss in the semifinal of the Australian Open, Swiatek has won three masters-level titles, in Doha, Indian Wells, and Miami, events that are just below the Grand Slams.Saturday’s final riding a 16-match winning streak. But it is the manner in which she has managed all the winning that has her opponents leaving the court with a dazed and glazed look in their eyes.Gone is the shaky mind that used to rattle after a handful of lost points or games or a set. She has evolved into a ruthless problem solver who tears through opponents, especially in finals. She has seemingly gained a half-step — or maybe just a willingness to embrace the next level of fatigue — that allows her to extend points and force opponents to hit extra shots when they thought the point was over.She also is just about the only player in the world who can consistently pull off a kind of tennis magic trick when a ball comes rocketing across the net and lands inches from her feet. In a split second, Swiatek squats so low that her skirt is basically on the ground and fires a kind of swinging half-volley that allows her to go back on the attack. She seems to invent a new shot in every match these days. Saturday it was a back-spinning squash shot lob that landed within inches of the baseline.Osaka, who entered the tournament ranked 77th, had little to lose in the final. She had never lost the final of either a Grand Slam or a Masters 1000 tournament, but neither had Swiatek. Osaka positioned herself several steps into the court on Swiatek’s second serve, trying to rely on her quick hands and instinctive skill to punch the ball back and keep Swiatek off balance.The strategy never quite clicked. “I could never really figure out what to do,” Osaka said.Swiatek never faced a break point, and she had Osaka on the defensive from the start. It took Osaka 11 minutes to hold her serve in the first game. On the afternoon, she won nearly two-thirds of the points on her first serve, which hovered in the neighborhood of 120 m.p.h., but just one-third of those on her second, which was often in the mid-70s.Osaka’s next move will be closely watched. The clay court season in Europe is fast approaching. Clay has long been her worst surface. Grass is no picnic for her either. But she said she will travel to Europe later this month to prepare for the Madrid Open, and has an extra week of preparation built into her schedule. After months of questioning what she wanted from her tennis life, she desperately wants to do well, she said. She wants to be seeded for the French Open, which would likely mean being around the top 30. And she wants to be in the top 10 by the end of the year and reclaim the top ranking next year. “It feels kind of good to chase something,” she said. “That is a feeling I have been missing.” More