BILLY JOE SAUNDERS was told to “f**k off” by Sir Andy Murray after asking him for a cheeky game of FIFA.The pair were unlikely Team GB team-mates at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, in which the nation took home a total of 51 medals.
Billy Joe Saunders was part of the Team GB squad for the 2008 Olympic GamesCredit: NEWS GROUP NEWSPAPERS LTD
Billy Joe Saunders was part of the Team GB squad for the 2008 Olympic GamesCredit: AP
Billy Joe Saunders was part of the Team GB squad for the 2008 Olympic GamesCredit: REUTERS
Unwinding and not spending every waking moment thinking about their upcoming outing is key for any athlete, let alone those cooped up in the Olympic Village.
Saunders looked to take one of his welterweight matches off his mind one night with a game of FIFA, which he invited Murray to play.
But he was met with a hostile response from the Brit Tennis legend.
“Another example of how immature I was happened in the Olympic Village, where obviously all of the athletes from every sport stay together,” Saunders said during an appearance on Up Front with Simon Jordan.
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“One night I knocked on Andy Murray’s door at midnight asking if he wanted to play FIFA, when he had a match the next day.
“That’s how childish I was mentally. Andy basically just told me to f**k off really.
“I can’t remember exactly what was said but it was along those lines.
“It was basically just, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he slammed the door shut.”
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Saunders’ self-confessed “childish mentality” almost saw him kicked off the team before the tournament had even started.
The former WBO super-middleweight champion revealed: “I actually nearly never ended up going to the Olympics.
“I almost got sent home before it started in my training camp.
“It was me and Frankie Gavin and he was struggling to make weight, so we weren’t allowed out of the training camp.
“Me and Frankie decided to steal two jet skis outside of the hotel.
“We thought two people were chasing us when we were using them out at sea, so me and him started doing ‘moonies’ to them.”
Saunders, 34, hasn’t fought since losing his 168lb title to Canelo Alvarez over two years ago but is eyeing a December return to the ring.
Billy Joe Saunders hasn’t lost since losing his super-middleweight title unification fight with Canelo Alvarez in May 2021Credit: Reuters More
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BILLY JOE SAUNDERS was told to “f**k off” by Sir Andy Murray after asking him for a cheeky game of FIFA.The pair were unlikely Team GB team-mates at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, in which the nation took home a total of 51 medals.
Overshadowed by Toronto and Montreal in the world of tennis, the city fought aggressively to bring the tournament to its 17,000-seat arena.To understand how Vancouver — which, as Canada’s third-largest city, has long stood in the tennis shadow of Toronto and Montreal — won the right to host the 2023 Laver Cup, start with the big picture. From 2,500 feet.In April 2019, the morning after Laver Cup officials flew in from New York, the first thing their Vancouver hosts did was pile them into a seaplane.Climbing out of Vancouver Harbour, the pilot circled above skyscrapers and sports arenas before heading north over cedar trees and glacial lakes toward Black Tusk, the region’s volcanic peak. Whistler Mountain beckoned in the distance. After an hour of sightseeing, the plane splashed back down across from the 2010 Olympic Cauldron.It was a powerful reminder of the city’s hosting legacy.Steve Zacks, the chief executive of the Laver Cup, remembers putting a lot of trust in the pilot. “Once you’re up there, it’s just a beautiful perspective of the city and all the surroundings,” he said in an interview.But it was Vancouver’s experience — and its burgeoning grass-roots tennis scene — that convinced him and his team to take the Laver Cup to a city that hadn’t had a big-time tennis event in a half-century.“The appeal of Vancouver is that it’s a modern city, a business center, and plus, they had the infrastructure and experience to host a major sporting event,” he said.The Olympic Cauldron from the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. For the Laver Cup, the Cauldron will be lit up in red (for Team World) and blue (for Team Europe).Chang W. Lee/The New York TimesSince the 2010 Winter Games, Vancouver has been the site of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup finals, several Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup qualifying matches for Canada’s national tennis squads, Rugby Sevens, and an L.P.G.A. golf tournament. And, in 2026, Vancouver will be a host city for the FIFA Men’s World Cup.In 2025, Vancouver and Whistler will also host the Invictus Games, an international adaptive sports competition for wounded service members.As a professional hockey town, Vancouver’s elite tennis résumé has been thin, with a well-regarded, but second-tier, men’s professional tournament in recent years.The last time Vancouver was a stop on the men’s international circuit was in 1973, and the tournament was sponsored by a cigarette company. Rod Laver himself won the Vancouver tournament in 1970, its first year.Laver, 85, will be a guest at the team event, which Roger Federer cocreated in his honor. For three days starting Friday, the Laver Cup will lay out the signature black court inside Rogers Arena to showcase six of the top players from Europe against six from the rest of the world. Federer, who retired last year, will toss the coin in the final doubles match on Sunday.“There’s no other way to invite the greats of tennis to Vancouver unless they’re playing for their national team,” said Michelle Collens, the senior manager of Sport Hosting Vancouver, and the bid orchestrator. “This is our opportunity to put us on the map.”While Canada has developed recent stars like Felix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu, they have emerged from Montreal and Toronto. Those cities host premier tournaments before the United States Open every summer.Jonathan Wornell, the executive director of British Columbia’s regional federation, Tennis BC, sees the Laver Cup jump-starting generational change. “I think it will cause that next surge in the sport,” he said.In fact, it has already begun. Every July, Vancouver has one of the largest amateur tennis tournaments in North America. This year, that event — the Stanley Park Open — drew 1,700 participants of all ages, 200 more than in 2022.Since 2019, players in schools and development programs have doubled, to 24,611 in 2022 from 12,260 participants in 2019, according to Tennis BC.Juniors are clamoring for spots, and not just in tournaments. The Laver Cup held tryouts for ball kids that drew 360 competitors for just 24 slots.“The demand for ball kids was insane,” said Sierra Roberts, the manager of the Laver Cup ball crew. “There’s just so much buzz.“For a lot of the juniors who are going pro,” she said, the players in the tournament are “the heroes they never get to watch or be a ball kid for.”Helping youth was where this bid began — at a golf tournament. In September 2018, Collens was at a charity golf event outside Vancouver raising money for local children to play organized sports, when she was paired with Dave Pentland, a shipping executive. He was also an avid tennis player.“I asked him, ‘What do you think about the Laver Cup — is this for real?’” she said. Pentland promised to let her know, as he was leaving the next day for the second iteration of the event, in Chicago. He sent Collens dazzling pictures from the hospitality suites and court; his contacts got Zacks in touch with Collens.As an event manager for the 2010 Winter Games, Collens specialized in hospitality. In 2019, she had designers make an app for Zacks’s scouting team that held a digital itinerary, with the Laver Cup logo on each site on a map. A mixologist made specialty cocktails named for city highlights.Still, Boston won for the 2020 event, which was then moved to 2021 because of Covid. The event alternates between Europe and world sites, and London was chosen for 2022. By then, the Laver Cup had engaged a London-based firm to handle soaring interest from about 60 cities, Zacks said.Vancouver, with its established relationship and international allure, beat out some 20 cities vying to host in 2023 “the Ryder Cup of tennis,” as Zacks calls it. The Laver Cup’s mission, he added, has been to grow the game, bringing it to “new fans and new locations.”The event begins Thursday with a practice session for the community in Rogers Arena, with ticket proceeds going to a local charity. That night, guests and players will attend a black-tie gala in the glass-windowed convention center overlooking the harbor. The Olympic Cauldron, resting in a fountain outside, will be lit up in the colors of red (for Team World, including Canada and the United States) and blue (Team Europe).One wrinkle in the meticulous plan appeared when Coldplay sold out two concerts during the Laver Cup at BC Place, a 55,000-seat venue directly across the street from Rogers Arena, with 17,000 seats for tennis. Prices for hotel rooms skyrocketed, Collens acknowledged.But she reassured Laver Cup officials that they had handled far bigger crowds and simultaneous events, including the Winter Olympics.“‘I invited you to my city,’” Collens said she told them. “‘I’m going to hold your hand and make sure you have a seamless experience setting this up.’” More
Young players are stepping up as some older ones fade. Even Roger Federer, the event’s father, has retired.Coming into this year’s U.S. Open, Ben Shelton felt that he had something to prove. But it didn’t have anything to do with the final major championship of the year, where he reached the semifinals before falling to the eventual winner, Novak Djokovic.Instead, Shelton thought he had to justify his inclusion on the six-man Team World in the Laver Cup, an elite competition that begins Friday at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia.“When the announcement first came out, I saw all these comments on Instagram, like, ‘Why did you take him? Why? Why this guy? There’s so many higher-ranked players,’” said Shelton, who entered the U.S. Open at No. 47 in the world but is now No. 19 because of his semifinal finish in New York. “I wanted to show people that maybe I deserved to be on the team.”The Laver Cup began in Prague in 2017 and trades continents each year between Europe and North America. Team Europe, captained by Bjorn Borg, who won 11 majors, features Andrey Rublev, Casper Ruud, Hubert Hurkacz, Gaël Monfils, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Arthur Fils. John McEnroe, who won seven major singles titles, is captain of Team World. His players are Shelton, Taylor Fritz, Frances Tiafoe, Tommy Paul, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Francisco Cerundolo.Last year’s event in London was noteworthy because it featured Roger Federer’s final match before retirement. His greatest rivals, Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, all showed up to honor him. His last match, a doubles loss with his teammate Nadal to Tiafoe and Jack Sock, was a tearful tribute to the 20-time major champion.This year’s Laver Cup represents a generational shift in the sport. Federer has retired, and Nadal, 37, has not played an ATP match since the Australian Open in January because of injuries.Murray, at age 36, is not the player he was when he captured the U.S. Open in 2012, Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016, and became world No. 1 in 2016. And Djokovic, who won his 24th major at the U.S. Open less than two weeks ago and is the current No. 1, is focusing on winning another major.“The end of an era heralds the beginning of a new one,” said Rod Laver — the player for whom the competition is named — who was part of his own generation’s rivalries with Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe, Arthur Ashe and Jan Kodes, among others. “Today’s leading younger players are jockeying for pole position, and we’ll get to see them competing in a team setting in Vancouver, which weaves the eras together.”Bjorn Borg, left, is the captain of Team Europe, and John McEnroe leads Team World.Andrew Boyers/Action Images, via ReutersMcEnroe, who had his own spirited rivalries with Borg, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl throughout the 1970s and ’80s, lamented that the Laver Cup had not generated the same appeal among the players as the Ryder Cup, the team event in golf.“The goal was to make it like golf’s Ryder Cup, where everyone was waiting until the last minute to see who was hottest, but everyone was available,” McEnroe said. “It doesn’t seem to be the case now. It’s tougher to get everyone committed.”Carlos Alcaraz, the reigning Wimbledon champ and world No. 2, has declined to play, as has the U.S. Open runner-up and the world No. 3, Daniil Medvedev. But six of the next 11 ranked players are competing this year, and three others, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alex de Minaur, have played in the past.This year, Team Europe will play without its powerful core of Federer, Nadal, Murray, Djokovic, Alcaraz and Medvedev. Winners in each of the first four years, the Europeans lost on the last day last year when Team World’s Auger-Aliassime beat Djokovic and Tiafoe outlasted Tsitsipas.Paul, who beat Alcaraz in a tournament in Canada this summer but then lost to Shelton at the U.S. Open, said he was keenly aware of the void left by the Big Four.“It’s definitely a big loss for tennis in general, not just Laver Cup,” he said. “It obviously gives us a pretty good opportunity.”Fritz, who last year won his only Laver Cup singles match, acknowledged the generational shift.“I think times are definitely changing,” said Fritz, who is the top-ranked American at No. 8. “It’s going to be a really different Laver Cup this year with how Team Europe is made up.”Tiafoe, who lost in the U.S. Open quarterfinals to Shelton, agreed.“Yeah, it’s generational,” Tiafoe said during the Open. “I think the fans are going to appreciate the new faces. Tennis is at a great place; the level is getting better and better.”“When I was watching on TV, I was thinking, the way they are so excited, it’s not real,” Andrey Rublev said. “But when you get there, you want to win. You get with the team, you start to feel the support, and you don’t want to let them down.”Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesBefore he first played in 2021, Rublev was skeptical of the event, which awards no ATP ranking points.“When I was watching on TV, I was thinking, the way they are so excited, it’s not real,” he said. “But when you get there, you want to win. You get with the team, you start to feel the support, and you don’t want to let them down.”Fritz is also aware of the camaraderie of the team competition that is so rare in tennis. Last year, members of Team Europe watched a doubles practice session between Federer and Nadal and Murray and Djokovic. Both teams sat intently on the sidelines during each match, cheering and giving coaching advice.In tennis, when you win, Fritz said during the U.S. Open, “you don’t really have people to celebrate with and have fun with. Winning last year, I felt like that was one of the top moments of my tennis career because we were able to celebrate with a group of my close friends.”Seismic movements in tennis are nothing new. After Laver and his rivals, and Borg-McEnroe-Connors-Lendl, came Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang. Each time an era ends, there are those who feel that there can never be one as great.Then came Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray. And now Alcaraz has emerged to challenge Djokovic, as have other talented young players.Shelton, who turns 21 next month, is one of them. A former player at the University of Florida, he helped the Gators to the 2021 N.C.A.A. team championship. He then won the N.C.A.A. singles title the next year before leaving school and turning pro last year.At the Open this year, Shelton became the youngest American man to reach the semifinals since Chang did in 1992. For Shelton, the Laver Cup has a special attraction.“I’m pretty pumped to be in the team atmosphere,” he said at the U.S. Open. “First team competition I’ve been part of since I left college. I’m going to be just as amped and emotional in Vancouver as I was here.” More
He rose to the top 10 this year and had a good showing at the U.S. Open. His family, he said, means “everything to me.”Frances Tiafoe was making the rounds. Upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside. Touching all corners of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, conducting 90-second interviews, shaking hands, trying hard to manage a smile for everyone in his path.It was the eve of the United States Open last month, and Tiafoe, 25, was returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, a semifinal finish at the 2022 Open that included an upset of the four-time champion Rafael Nadal.The Open represented Tiafoe’s coming-out party. Ranked No. 26 entering the tournament last year, he began this year’s Open in the top 10, largely on the strength of winning two ATP titles, in Houston and Stuttgart, Germany, this season. He also reached the semifinals at Indian Wells before losing to Daniil Medvedev.But Tiafoe, whose career began when his parents emigrated from Sierra Leone and his father became head of maintenance at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park, Md., struggled at the majors this year.He lost in the third round at the Australian and French Opens and at Wimbledon. At the U.S. Open, he was defeated in the quarterfinals by a fellow American, Ben Shelton.Tiafoe and Shelton were chosen by John McEnroe, the captain of Team World, to play in the Laver Cup in Vancouver, British Columbia.At last year’s cup, Tiafoe and Jack Sock beat Nadal and Roger Federer in the final match of Federer’s career. Tiafoe then beat Stefanos Tsitsipas to clinch victory for Team World. It was the first time in the five-year history of the event that Team Europe failed to win.The following interview has been edited and condensed.What was it like to play Roger and Rafa in Roger’s last match?Me and Jack were joking, should we go hard, should we not, should we make it a good show? I’m glad we went out there and played hard.The result was so irrelevant. Tennis won that night.What did you say to Roger when you met at the net after the final point?“Thank you for the last 20-plus years. Thank you not only for your on-court play, but for who you are as an individual. What you’ve done will never die.”At last year’s Laver Cup, Tiafoe and Jack Sock beat Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the final match of Federer’s career.Kin Cheung/Associated PressThen, in the clinching match, you had to save four match points against Tsitsipas?Man, it felt like I was down 100 match points. It was crazy. I had never experienced something like that before. Incredible shotmaking with legends sitting on the bench. It was an unbelievable atmosphere.When you look back on this year, do you say it’s been a great year, or that you need to kick it up a notch?I think it’s been a great year outside of the Slams. But the Slams are the only thing I really care about, to be fair.You’ve spoken about Arthur Ashe and the privilege of being a man of color in this sport. But Arthur also spoke of the burden he felt. Do you feel the pressure of being in this position and having to motivate others?One hundred percent, because it’s not like basketball or football, which are predominantly sports of color. Not only that you’re one of a few, but you’re doing it at a super high level. There are expectations, but people are looking up to you and wanting to be like you. You’re in a position to change people’s lives. It’s definitely a burden, but at the same time it’s a blessing.You have mentioned that right before you play a match, the most important thing is that your mother tells you how much she loves you. How critical is your family to your success?Family is everything to me. I’d do anything for my family. I play this game at a high level for my family. That’s one of my biggest motivations every day. My family can’t even believe we’re in this position.Is there one life goal that defines you?Probably that when I’m done, both of my parents will be able to kick up their feet. I want to be in a position to help kids in Sierra Leone play the game of tennis. It’s not really about me. More
As our Sports of The Times columnist moves to a new assignment, he reflects on a recurring theme from his tenure: the rise of female athletes.What perfect timing.That thought flashed through my mind as I sat courtside at Arthur Ashe Stadium last week, watching Coco Gauff poleax the backhand passing shot that sealed the U.S. Open and her first Grand Slam title.My thoughts were as much about the in-sync way Gauff struck that last ball as how the moment had lined up for this column.Gauff — a sensation now at 19, much as Venus and Serena Williams were at the same age — stepped closer to her destiny. With a major championship in hand, she is ready to be a leader on the women’s tennis tour and one of the guardians of the new era of female empowerment in sports.Her beginning provided a perfect ending for me. The Open was the last event I will cover as the Sports of The Times columnist. I’m moving to our National desk, where I’ll write feature stories about America’s wonder, complexity, trouble and promise.How perfect that the U.S. Open helped lower the curtain, with a women’s sport providing the tournament’s apex moment: Gauff’s three-set win over Aryna Sabalenka overshadowed an anticlimactic men’s final in which Novak Djokovic took his 24th major title with a straight-sets win over Daniil Medvedev. For me, women have been the story, and not just at the U.S. Open.Doak Campbell Stadium at Florida State University in May 2020, during the height of the pandemic.Joshua King for The New York TimesI took on this column in the late summer of 2020. The worst days of the pandemic can seem a hazy memory now, stuck in the back of our collective consciousness, as painful moments often are. Much of the sports world was shuttered and scrambling to figure out ways to get back to competition amid the loss of so many lives. Who knew when the rampaging virus would be tamed?At the same time, the ever-present inheritance of racism roiled the nation after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — both at the hands of police — and the brutal killing of a jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, by white racists.Remember the athletes — famous professionals and little-known amateurs in the United States and globally — and how they spoke out and led.And remember that Donald Trump was president then, spewing barbs at them, particularly at Black athletes who raised their voices or protested by having the temerity to kneel, exercising their right of peaceful protest during the playing of the national anthem.I wrote about all this and much more, and I tried to do so in a way that showed I was not interested in the kind of shouting matches that pervade much of sports journalism. I aimed to write thoughtfully about how sports and athletes intersect with the social issues that stir and vex our culture. I sought to be a strong voice in this space, and to add to the mix a good pinch of storytelling and the occasional piece spiced with a little cheeky fun. More than anything, I sought to live out the most tried-and-true of journalistic credos: comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — or, in my parlance, fight for the outsiders and the outliers, the unseen and the overlooked.Which brings me back to a subject I considered often here, one embodied by Gauff hitting that backhand passing shot and walking off with a Grand Slam title and a winner’s check for $3 million: the rise of women in sports.Think of all we have witnessed in this arena over the last three years.Think of the W.N.B.A., the league’s leading role in the protests of 2020, and its continued strength as an amalgamation of women who are not afraid to challenge the status quo.Think of the winning fight by the U.S. women’s national soccer team for equal pay, or how female soccer players across the globe and in the N.W.S.L. stood up against harassing, abusive coaches.A women’s volleyball match drew more than 92,000 people to Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska earlier this month.Terry Ratzlaff for The New York TimesDid you see that volleyball game at the University of Nebraska, with 92,000 fans in the stands? Or all those record-breaking, packed-to-the-gills stadiums at the Women’s World Cup, with 75,000 on hand for the recent final in Australia?Yep, it’s a new era.Consider March Madness 2023. This was a year when the men’s event sat in the shadow of the women’s side — with its upsets, tension and quality. With the charismatic Angel Reese leading L.S.U. over Iowa for the national title. With Reese, bold and Black, sparking a conversation on race by taunting her white opponent, Caitlin Clark, the sharpshooting player of the year.Yes, on the court, track, field or wherever they compete, women can be as challenging, ornery, competitive and controversial as men. That needs to be celebrated.Where will this end? With a few exceptions, tennis being one, it’s hard to imagine women’s sports getting the kind of attention they deserve any time soon.Who gets the most money, notice and hosannas in youth sports? By and large, boys.Who runs most teams and controls most media that broadcast and write about the games? By and large, men.Who runs the companies that provide the sponsorship money? Yeah, primarily men.Change is coming. But change will take more time. Maybe a few generations more.The decks remain stacked in favor of guys, but women continue their fight. When it comes to the games we play and love to watch, that’s the biggest story in sports right now.A drawing of Billie Jean King at the U.S. Open earlier this month. Karsten Moran for The New York TimesHow perfect that this year’s U.S. Open would frame that story once again. Flushing Meadows was a two-week gala celebration of the 50th anniversary of Billie Jean King’s successful push for equal prize money at the event — a landmark in sports that still stands out for its boldness.And how fitting that on this golden anniversary — with Serena Williams now retired, with Billie Jean front and center during tributes all tournament long — Gauff would win her first Grand Slam event and do it by flashing the kind of poise that marks her as an heir to the throne.Thank you, Coco and Serena. Thank you, Billie Jean, and all the other female and male athletes who have gone against the status quo, emerged victorious, and are still in the fight.And thank you for following along as I’ve tried to stand for the outsiders and make sense of it all. More
Halep, who tested positive for a banned substance at the U.S. Open in 2022, promised an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.An independent panel overseeing antidoping rules for tennis has issued a four-year suspension to Simona Halep of Romania, a ruling that could effectively end the career of the former world No. 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion.Halep, 31, was charged with two separate breaches of the sport’s antidoping rules, following a failed drug test at the U.S. Open in 2022. Halep tested positive for Roxadustat, a drug commonly used for people suffering from anemia, a condition resulting from a low level of red blood cells.Roxadustat is on the list of banned substances because it artificially stimulates hemoglobin and red blood cell production, which is a technique for players to gain more endurance. The drug does this by getting the body to produce more of the hormone erythropoietin, commonly referred to as “EPO,” which plays an important role in red blood cell production.Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body. More red blood cells can result in increased endurance, which made EPO a particularly common performance-enhancing substance in professional cycling for years.In addition, Halep was also accused of having irregularities in her blood compared with samples that the agency had access to as part of her so-called biological passport, which provides doping enforcement officials with a baseline. The three-person tribunal that heard the case between the International Tennis Integrity Agency and Halep found that those irregularities suggested the use of banned substances during the season.Halep, who had never previously failed a drug test, had argued and provided evidence to support her contention that the Roxadustat had been present in a contaminated supplement that she had taken ahead of the U.S. Open, but that it had not been listed as one of the ingredients. The tribunal accepted that argument, but after hearing expert testimony, it concluded that the supplement contamination could not account for the amount of Roxadustat found in her urine.Karen Moorhouse, the chief executive of the I.T.I.A., said the agency welcomed the decision after a yearlong process that had received significant criticism from both Halep, coaches she has worked with and other players. Moorhouse said that about 8,000 pages of evidence was considered.“The I.T.I.A. has followed the proper processes as we would with any other individual — in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code — fulfilling our purpose and responsibility to uphold the principle of fair competition, on behalf of the sport,” she said.In a statement released through her communications team, Halep said that she had never knowingly or intentionally taken a banned substance and that she would appeal the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which functions as a top court for sports disputes. She said the evidence she had presented to the tribunal was compelling.“While I am grateful to finally have an outcome following numerous unfounded delays and a feeling of living in purgatory for over a year, I am both shocked and disappointed by their decision,” Halep said.The suspension is the highest-profile ruling in the sport since Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and one of the world’s highest-paid female athletes, received a two-year suspension in 2016 for a doping violation.Sharapova tested positive for a heart medication that is said to improve blood flow and allow athletes to recover faster, in January 2016, shortly after it was added to a list of banned substances.Sharapova quickly admitted that she had for 10 years taken a heart drug whose active ingredient is Meldonium to manage what she said were a variety of health problems. She was not aware that the drug had been banned, she said. Sharapova was 29 when she was suspended, and though she did return to tennis, she retired in 2020 when she was 32.If the Court of Arbitration for Sport upholds the suspension, Halep will be banned from competing in tennis until October 2026 because she has been provisionally suspended for nearly a year. More
Moments after Novak Djokovic won the U.S. Open men’s singles final on Sunday night, he pulled a T-shirt out his bag and put it on.The shirt said “Mamba Forever” and had an image of Djokovic together with Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers star who died in a helicopter crash in 2020 with one of his daughters and seven others.Across the back, the shirt also had a No. 24, which Bryant used for 10 seasons with the Lakers (he also used No. 8 for 10 seasons).Djokovic said in an interview on the court during the trophy ceremony that the idea for the tribute came as he realized his 24th Grand Slam singles title was within reach, giving him a chance to connect with a meaningful number from Bryant’s career.“I thought 24 is the jersey that he wore when he became a legend of Lakers and world basketball,” Djokovic said. “So I thought it would be a nice symbolic thing to acknowledge him.”Djokovic added that he had a close relationship with Bryant and often sought the basketball star’s advice, especially as he tried to recover from injuries.Many athletes have praised Bryant over the years for his relentless drive, nicknamed the Mamba Mentality, which he showed repeatedly as he pursued N.B.A. championships (he won five) and tried to show himself to be the best player on the court.“We chatted a lot about the winner’s mentality,” Djokovic said. “He was one of the people that I relied on the most. He was always there for any kind of counsel, advice, any kind of support in a most friendly way.”Djokovic’s shirt is not the first ode to Bryant from a U.S. Open winner. When Naomi Osaka won the tournament in 2020, defeating Victoria Azarenka, she returned to the court after her match to pose for a picture with her trophy wearing a No. 8 Bryant jersey.“I wore this jersey every day after my matches,” Osaka said on Instagram. “I truly think it gave me strength. Always.” More
Gauff, 19, has been in the spotlight since she was a 15-year-old playing Wimbledon, but after she won the U.S. Open singles title, those lights will burn far hotter.The first thing Coco Gauff did after leaving the court in Arthur Ashe Stadium, with her first Grand Slam trophy in hand, was don a sponsor’s T-shirt proclaiming her as a champion. So it begins.Gauff has been in the glaring lights of fame since she was a 15-year-old playing into the fourth round at Wimbledon, but after winning the U.S. Open women’s singles title on Saturday, those lights could become blinding and the fame distracting. Additional endorsement offers will pour in — commercial shoots, appearance opportunities, business projects, investment offers and invitations to A-list social events will pile up in the near and long-term future.Gauff has demonstrated a composed maturity in her time in the public eye, and she declared herself up for the challenge of becoming even more famous and rich, even as she tries to keep winning important tournaments.“I’m ready,” Gauff said after she beat Aryna Sabalenka, 2-6, 6-3, 6-2. “I embrace it. I know how to keep my peace, but also embrace all of this around me.”The level of fame that comes with being an American teenager winning the U.S. Open can be spellbinding and daunting for some. Gauff is the first since Serena Williams won in 1999 at the age of 17. Young athletes in every sport have been overwhelmed by early success, fame and money. They may lose focus, party too hard, tap out on the hunger that drove them to their first championship, or became bigheaded.That does not seem to be an issue for Gauff, so far. After accepting her check for $3 million, Gauff casually thanked Billie Jean King, who was also on the stage, for fighting for equal pay for women, a gesture showcasing her perspective, humor and charm, all in one.“She is so humble,” Pere Riba, her coach, said after the match. “Her work ethic is so strong, so professional and she has very good manners. Put all of that together and she will only get better. She can handle it all.”Riba has been working with Gauff, alongside Brad Gilbert, only since June, right before Wimbledon. Gauff’s father, Corey Gauff, asked Riba to be his daughter’s coach this summer on a temporary basis that turned permanent. Coco Gauff said that her father recommended hiring Gilbert, too. But Corey Gauff remains a steady influence and inspiration.“The most important person for Coco on the team is the dad,” Riba said. “The parents are really, really important for her.”Late Saturday night, Corey Gauff emerged into the player garden, where family members and friends had gathered, while Coco Gauff answered questions at a news conference. They cheered and rushed over to him as he held the coach’s trophy, and he smiled humbly and distributed hugs.Gauff’s game still has room to improve, a worrisome fact for opponents. She will probably add some strength to her impressive speed game, and will continue to shore up her forehand, which she mostly cured before the summer hardcourts circuit began.“She still has to continue fixing,” Riba said. “There were old habits, and you have to keep cleaning these up every single day, continue working because it was a long time doing it that way. But she corrects really well.”“This is a big achievement,” Gauff said. “But I feel like I’ve been used to this since I was basically 15 years old.”Karsten Moran for The New York TimesIn the next few days, Gauff’s schedule could be demanding. She will be asked to appear on national television programs and pose for photo shoots. She will be invited to parties. Celebrities will reach out, and some, including former President Barack Obama, who watched Gauff’s first match at this year’s U.S. Open in Ashe, and posted his congratulations to her on social media Saturday, will express their admiration.For players like Emma Raducanu, who won her first U.S. Open at 18 two years ago, claiming a major trophy at an early age brought riches and fame but not yet consistent tennis success. Since then, Raducanu has been ousted before the third round in the five Grand Slam tournaments she entered after her victorious U.S. Open.But Gauff, whose career earnings before Saturday from singles and doubles topped $8 million, was playing in her fifth U.S. Open, and people have been pointing to her for years as the next great American champion. Success did not come in an instant.“This is a big achievement,” she said. “But I feel like I’ve been used to this since I was basically 15 years old. In high school, doing online school, just used to it.”Marion Bartoli, the 2013 Wimbledon champion, said on Sky Sports after the match that in the next few days Gauff’s head will be spinning “like a washing machine,” with all the attention and responsibilities facing her. But Riba said Gauff is not only prepared for that.“Coco is ready for more,” he said. More